The Making of the Sausage with the Senate Immigration Bill

The hotly debated Senate version of the immigration bill passed last week. While much of the conversation focused on the “Gang of Eight’s” inability to provide a border security proposal which would satisfy a majority of Republicans, not as much attention was given to the pork laden aspect of the legislation.

An attempt to keep the public and lawmakers from understanding what is in “comprehensive” bills is becoming an unfortunate pattern in Congress. As Nancy Pelosi eloquently stated during the Obamacare discussion, “we have to pass it so you can find out what’s in it.” Ultimately, the legislation, currently over 1,000 pages in length, succumbed to aggressive lobbying from a variety of industries.

As The Independent Institute’s Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa outlines in his recent book, Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America, immigration reform should be a product of free markets, not the pet projects of bureaucrats.

Some beneficiaries of last minute additions to the bill include resorts, au pair agencies, and other industries that rely on the J-1 cultural-exchange visa program, which allows foreigners to enter the USA through 14 categories, ranging from interns to visiting scholars. The largest number, nearly 92,000 last year, entered as part of the summer-work travel category. Additionally, 18,000 worked as camp counselors and nearly 14,000 as au pairs. Businesses that hire these visa holders save money because they do not have to pay unemployment taxes, Medicare, or Social Security. The visa holders have their own health insurance, which provides another cost savings to employers.

Senators Harry Reid and Dean Heller from Nevada slipped in a provision that provides thousands of jobs and increased tax provisions to casinos for tourism promotion. Specifically, their amendment provides for the permanent funding of the Travel Promotion Act and allows tourism-related businesses to hire undocumented immigrants. Ironically, supporters of the immigration bill cite the hiring of undocumented workers as one of the primary reasons for the urgency in passing comprehensive immigration reform!

Other pet projects were added into the bill to garner more votes. For example, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich from Alaska were given a provision that will allow seafood processors to hire young foreign workers through a summer work travel program. As a result, Alaska’s seafood industry will benefit from cheap labor from low-skilled temporary workers to aid businesses during peak periods.

Even Bernie Sanders, one of only two Independents in the Senate, was able to negotiate a deal. Sanders inserted part of President Obama’s rejected “jobs plan” program in the legislation allowing $1.5 billion in the next two years to provide jobs for youth between the ages of 16 and 24.6

Other pork in the bill includes a call for more visas for the meat industry from Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC); special treatment of Irish workers from Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY); a benefit for ski areas inserted by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO); and even a push to aid the cruise industry from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Last week, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) summed up the legislation in his own words, “You’re left with a bill that’s chockfull of de facto earmarks, pork-barrel spending and special interest sweeteners, a bill that increase the on-budget deficit, but fails to guarantee a border that’s secure and offers only promises, which historically Congress has been very, very, very, very bad about keeping.”

Cherylyn Harley LeBon is former Policy Director for at the Independent Institute. She received her B.A. in history cum laude from Canisius College and her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin.
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