Friday, July 27, 2018

Why Nothing Gets Done On Immigration

Stopping illegal immigration and getting a handle on the whole situation was one of the most important issues that Donald Trump ran on. It could in fact be described as his signature issue. At his rallies he frequently spoke about immigration and our need to build a big, beautiful wall, and have Mexico pay for it. And yet here we are in July of 2018 and almost nothing has happened. There is no wall, nor is there construction started on the wall. Illegal immigrants still brazenly cross the border almost at will. Thanks to the media's relentless attack, especially recently when dealing with "family separation", and the general apathy or outright hostility from Congressional Republicans, Trump has found himself mostly playing defense on the immigration issue. Sure, he got tax cuts passed but who was showing up to vote for Trump in November 2016 with tax cuts in the front of their mind? Trump was elected on fixing our unbalanced trade deals, something he has had some success with in spite of even more resistance from his own party, and to stop the flow of illegal immigrants. It isn't as though people don't care about this issue. NumbersUSA reported that recent polling in July showed that 22% of American list immigration as their number one concern. Among Republicans it is much higher and double the next highest concern. So why hasn't anything happened? Because that is how things work in Washington. Let me give you an example.


If you listen to politicians speak, they will usually agree that we should be working together to come up with "common sense bi-partisan solutions" to the immigration issue. One such solution would be E-Verify, an electronic system that helps to ensure that someone is legally eligible to work in the United States. According to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) writing in Bloomberg, E-Verify is the best tool we have to prevent illegal aliens from being hired in this country:

There is a proven, cost-effective tool to help reduce unlawful employment and to remove future incentives for illegal immigration. That tool is E-Verify. E-Verify is a voluntary, quick and free workforce verification system provided by the federal government that instantly checks an individual’s employment eligibility. E-Verify is the most effective tool available to fight illegal immigration because it drastically reduces or eliminates the illegal jobs magnet.

As I understand it, E-Verify helps prevent illegal aliens from using fake documents to obtain work by verifying that the documents being presented are not forged or "spoofed". That sounds great, doesn't it? After all, Democrats always talking about background checks before buying a gun so obviously they wold be in favor of this. You would assume this measure would have massive bi-partisan support. You would be wrong.

A lot of groups stand in the way of this measure, many of them pretty predictable leftist groups that see illegal immigration and eventual amnesty as a way to shift American demographics and therefore the political landscape in their favor irreparably. But there are also big corporate interests that don't want to see mandatory universal E-Verify become a reality. One of the primary opponents is the Western Growers Association. You can be forgiven for not knowing anything about the WGA. Unless you are a California produce grower, you might never have a reason to think about the WGA. So who are they? Basically the WGA is the lobbying machine for the big produce growing farms out west, mainly California. Thanks to our infrastructure, refrigerated railcars and trucks, etc., California produces a huge percentage of our fruits and vegetables and is the reason people like me in the upper Midwest can have fresh fruit to eat even during the dead of winter. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, California sells something like $46 billion in agricultural products and this is a significant portion of the U.S. total in produce and nuts:

Over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California. 

We aren't talking about backyard gardens.

But how much influence does the Western Growers Association have with the Trump administration and Congress? They are just one lobbying group covering a very specialized and regional industry after all. It turns out they have a lot of influence.

Just recently the WGA helped to kill a bill which included E-Verify. The President of the WGA, Tom Nassif, didn't like that the bill required a "touchout", or leaving the U.S. and then coming back as an H-2C worker.

“The bill would require all of those workers — and we could have 400,000 to 500,000 here in California — to stand up and say we are here illegally, so deport my spouse and convert me to a guestworker,” Nassif said. “Some of them have been here for decades. Our growers tell us that workers tell them they would rather continue living in the shadows than convert to H-2C. So we can’t support a bill that would cause us to lose our workforce.”

Nassif said he’s not asking for citizenship for illegals but legal status for them to transition to H-2C without returning to their country of origin.

Sure he is not calling for citizenship, but these illegal aliens have been here for decades. They have spouses which means they are having children. Those children are citizens thanks to birthright citizenship and those kids pack California's schools and eventually become voters.

According to the article linked, there are around 2 million illegal aliens working in the U.S. agricultural industry, most of them in produce or dairy, another major California industry. So here is Tom Nassif, a man representing a significant portion of an industry with combined revenues of tens of billions of dollars, an industry that knowingly is illegally employing millions of aliens to pick their crops, opposing a bill that would make it easier for the farmers he represents to follow the law and only hire workers legally authorized to work in the United States. Instead he wants to just magically transform illegal workers to H-2C status without the requirement for them to leave and come back while absolutely refusing to support E-Verify. Why would anyone oppose E-Verify, which is described above as quick and free? The only plausible reason is that Nassif's employers, the farmers of the Western Growers Association, want to be able to continue to employ illegal workers that they can pay less and treat poorly. According to NumbersUSA there is already a legal guest worker program, the H-2A, but the WGA doesn't like that either. If the concern is having sufficient workers to pick their fields, which is what they claim, why wouldn't they like that program? This is why, emphasis mine:

The current H-2A program allows for unlimited guest workers to perform field labor. Western Growers members oppose H-2A not because they have used the program and found it inefficient, but because it requires them to pay a set wage, and to provide certain amenities, such as livable accommodation and safe and sanitary working conditions for their workers. Western Growers members have chosen to circumvent the law in order to keep the wages and working conditions for their employees sub-standard.

Ah, I see. On principle I oppose things like minimum wage laws because I believe that employers and employees should negotiate wages and benefits without Uncle Sam interfering. If you think you deserve a higher wage, look for a new job and see if your combination of skills and experience is worth more in the marketplace. I have done that many times in my career, taking my skills and experience to the marketplace, sometimes getting a better job, sometimes not when I overestimated what I brought to the table. That system mostly works for people who are legally eligible to work in the U.S.. But that is not what is going on here. What is going on here is more akin to what NumbersUSA describes as indentured servitude. If a worker is here illegally, you have a ton of leverage over them. They rely on you for housing and wages and they know if they pipe up about anything they get deported. So you can pay them a lower wage, provide substandard housing and work conditions and they can't do much about it. They aren't able to get another, more traditional job because they probably don't speak much English and normal employers are not going to knowingly hire an illegal so if you want to come to America to make a few bucks illegally, your options are limited. So that is why the WGA is digging their heels in about E-Verify. They want to be able to keep hiring lower wage illegal aliens.

There are hundreds of thousands of unemployed Californians. Add in people that are out of the workforce entirely and that number likely climbs to over a million. The vast majority of these people are getting some sort of government assistance. In other words, working Californians are subsidizing hundreds of thousands of their fellow Californians to not work. At the same time, members of the Western Growers Association are knowingly hiring hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens to pick their crops. Something seems amiss here. Again, I am all for employers paying only the wages they think appropriate for a job but when you have workers that are limited in job opportunities and under threat of deportation, it skews the employer-employee relationship. What other industry besides the produce farmers out West and elsewhere in the country, willfully and wantonly flaunts the law and then has the arrogance to parade their hired gun lobbyists in expensive suits around to block passage of laws that would make it harder for them to openly break the law and hire illegal workers?

But it doesn't stop there. When I saw that the Western Growers Association was involved here, my mind immediately went to Ken Barbic. I wrote about Ken and his relationship to Russell Moore last April: The Curious Case Of Russell Moore. At that time I was looking at the linkage between Barbic, who was the chairman of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Dr. Moore. It wasn't all that easy to find but Ken Barbic resigned from the ERLC board in April of this year. More on that in a moment. So who is Ken Barbic and why did I care? As I mentioned, Mr. Barbic was on the board of the SBC ERLC, an organization that employs as it's president one Russell Moore. At the same time Ken Barbic was on the board of the ERLC, he was also employed by, you guessed it, the Western Growers Association. Not just employed, he was the "Sr. Director, Federal Government Affairs". If you know much about the workings of D.C., "government affairs" is a fancy term for "lobbyist". So the chairman of the board of the ERLC was also one of the chief lobbyists for a group that is heavily reliant on illegal aliens and migrant workers in general. As I pointed out in my piece linked earlier in this paragraph, there are some troubling signs out of the ERLC that they were involved in groups that were far left on immigration and that even had connections to George Soros. Read the link above if you are interested. It seemed suspicious at least that Russ Moore was on the one hand working with sketchy people on immigration while at the same time his boss was lobbying Congress for more immigrant labor. Anyway, I followed the link in the piece I wrote last year to Ken Barbic's profile on the Western Growers Association webpage but it doesn't lead to his profile, it now goes to the profile of Dennis Nuxoll who is listed as the "Vice President, Federal Government Affairs". So where did Ken Barbic go? Is he at a different lobbying firm? Nope.

Ken Barbic now has a very senior position....in the Trump administration. He is the "Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations" at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a position he started in April of this year, around the same time he resigned from the board of the ERLC. What does the USDA Office of Congressional Relations do?

Office of Congressional Relations (OCR) serves as the Department's liaison with Members of Congress and their staffs. OCR works closely with members and staffs of various House and Senate Committees including the House Agriculture Committee and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to communicate USDA's legislative agenda and budget proposals.

Let me see if I can tie this up with a neat little bow for you.

Ken Barbic, a man who spent 10 years as a lobbyist for the Western Growers Association, a group that vehemently opposes E-Verify and knowingly employs millions of illegal workers, is now working for the Trump administration in the U.S. Department of Agriculture heading up an office tasked with congressional relations. President Trump ran on a platform based in large measure on stopping illegal immigration and reforming immigration in general. His administration hired a man who spent a decade lobbying for a group that is absolutely opposed to that agenda and placed him in a senior position where he acts as a liaison between the Trump Administration and Congress. Not surprisingly, just a few months after Barbic was appointed to this position, a bill to require E-Verify and shoring up immigration laws, H.R.4760 - Securing America's Future Act of 2018, failed to pass the House by a mere 20 votes. Granted, it wouldn't have made it intact through the Senate but still you have to wonder if a little more nudging might have overcome the objections of the WGA and others, especially when the guy doing the Congressional nudging from the USDA spent the better part of a decade lobbying for the WGA.

I have to wonder how much input Trump had in the appointment of Ken Barbic and if he had any inkling what his background is? There are really two possibilities here, one that Barbic has completely changed course from what his old employer was pushing and now is on board with the Trump agenda. The other option is that this is yet another swamp creature appointed by the President that is undermining his agenda, now from within instead of from outside. The second is a lot more plausible. It also makes one wonder how many people like Ken Barbic are in the government, perhaps subtly acting to delay or undermine the agenda of the President. I wonder how often Barbic has a lovely lunch with his former co-workers from WGA? I get it, there are an enormous number of appointments for a new President to make and I am sure for jobs like this one he relies on his senior team to make recommendations. It is just a sign that however ambitious Trump's agenda, or any President for that matter, overcoming institutional inertia and sabotage is a monumental task.

President Trump, if you want to see real immigration reform, it might be a good idea to not hire lobbyists from organizations that oppose reform. Just a thought.

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