During his rebuttal to President Obama's 2013 State of the Union address, Senator Marco Rubio depicted his immigrant past -- and tried to ease the GOP's hardliner image -- explaining, "My parents immigrated here in pursuit of the opportunity to improve their life and give their children the chance at an even better one. They made it to the middle class, my dad working as a bartender and my mother as a cashier and a maid. I didn't inherit any money from them. But I inherited something far better -- "the real opportunity to accomplish my dreams." Rubio went on to describe his immigrant neighbors, saying they "came here because they were stuck in poverty."
Nevertheless, the Republican Party -- including party members Marco Rubio, Lamar Smith , and Lindsey Graham -- is calling for the expansion of the guest worker program, a program that strips immigrants laboring in the U.S. of the rights all workers deserve and depend on for their safety and wellbeing. Rubio and Graham were part of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that unveiled their immigration reform plan, which called for increasing guest worker permits, to the Senate last month.
Marco Rubio and the Republican Party are wrong to support the H2-B guest worker program because it allows employers to hire expendable and easily exploitable workers without following the same guidelines that they do with U.S. workers. Under this program, U.S. firms recruit low-wage foreign workers and grant guest workers visas tied to their employment. Opponents contend that the program eliminates our modest existing protections for wages and working conditions in low-paid sectors. Although injury and sexual assault are a serious problem for these foreign workers, guest workers who report rape, harassment, unsafe working conditions, injuries, or exploitation, can easily be menaced with deportation by their supervisors if they report these working conditions sexual assault or an injury because the workers' visas are contingent upon their place of employment. Most, in fact, are deported, before their employers' abuse ever makes it to trial.
The guest worker program was created under the Bush Administration after Congress repeatedly voted down the Edward Kennedy-sponsored 2007 AgJobs Bill, which would have afforded foreign farmworkers greater protections. Through the guest worker program, a "win-win" solution was devised to keep our labor cheap and foreign workers with even fewer rights.
Our nation has a history of recruiting foreign laborers to do jobs that U.S.-born workers cannot or do not want to do and then "returning" them to their country of origin without granting them to opportunity of gaining U.S. citizenship. While U.S. farm workers were fighting in World War II, the U.S. government recruited Mexican workers to replace them in our fields. At the end of the war, an immigration program entitled "Operation Wetback" expelled thousands of Latino nationals from the U.S., including many legal immigrants, even though the Supreme Court ruled Hispanics have equal protection under the 14th amendment that same year. By 1954, 1.1 million Latino workers had been expelled back to Mexico.
One of the first modern-day examples of a guest worker program occurred during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when the Department of Homeland Security suspended I-9 employer inspections requiring employers to check cleanup workers' citizen status. Under this program, the most dangerous, messiest jobs, were reserved for disposable foreign workers some of whom were never paid for the work that was subcontracted out by our government to firms like Haliburton. Shelley Davis, the co-executive director of the Farmworker Justice Fund argues that the guest worker program make employees, "like indentured servants, at the mercy of their employer without legal protections" and opens the door for horrendous cases of worker exploitation. This past year, guest workers employed by Walmart seafood supplier CJ's in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana were locked into the plant by their employers, endured beatings, lived in labor camps, and were forced to perform unpaid work.
Our government cannot keep foreign workers in limbo without offering the protections or rights that come along with citizenship. It does a disservice to U.S. workers too when companies employ disposable, low-wage guest workers instead of allocating employees the benefits and living wages we all deserve. The guest worker program is not a concrete solution to our country's economic problems or to the immigration debate.
In his closing statement, Marco Rubio said, "We need to give all parents, especially the parents of children with special needs, the opportunity to send their children to the school of their choice." This carefully constructed rhetoric tries to make it sound like the Republican really cares about building opportunities for all U.S. children, and especially children with disabilities. Not only did the Senate's Republicans
--including Mr. Rubio -- reject ratifying the United Nation's Disability Treaty, the GOP also allege that President Obama has not deported enough undocumented immigrants.
President Obama's first term immigration policies were deeply flawed. The Huffington Post has documented how Obama's record high deportations have destroyed nearly 88,000 families. This article describes parents "locked up hundreds of miles from their homes" and the children of hardworking immigrant parents being put in foster care and up for adoption against their parents' will. However, during his State of the Union address, President Obama did not call for the temporary guest work program to be part of an immigration reform bill. Republican Senators like Lindsay Graham have blasted President Obama's omission.
While Marco Rubio has stated, "Many people who come here illegally are doing exactly what we would do if we lived in a country where we couldn't feed our families. If my kids went to sleep hungry every night and my country didn't give me an opportunity to feed them, there isn't a law, no matter how restrictive, that would prevent me from coming here," Rubio just rejected President Obama's plan, describing it as "seriously flawed" and saying "the President's bill would be dead on arrival in Congress." The president's leaked immigration plan , which rightfully set out a clear path to legal immigration for our nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants, already required that immigrants learn English, even though we have no national language, not to mention undocumented immigrants -- who mostly work in low-wage sectors -- having to pay back taxes and fines, which many may not be able to afford. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas movingly asked during his Senate testimony on immigration, "What do you want to do with me? For all the undocumented immigrants who are actually sitting here at this hearing, for the people watching online and for the 11 million of us, what do you want to do with us?"
What the Republican Party wants to do is deny 11 million undocumented workers from ever achieving legal status, letting them instead remain deportable on their employers' -- or politicians' -- whim. In fact, Paul Ryan rejected President Obama's immigration reform plan specifically for not including a guest worker program. And although the GOP is trying to triumph him as the solution to the Republican's Latino problem, Rubio himself has said that the undocumented workers have no legal right to stay in the U.S. and defends conservative critics that term a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as "amnesty". While Rubio ended his State of the Union rebuttal by describing, "This dream -- of a better life for their children -- it's the hope of parents everywhere," let us not forget in 2016 that Senator Rubio -- and the Republican platform -- support programs that have left millions of immigrants at risk for deportation, exploitation, injury, rape, and even death without any sort of legal recourse while on the path to achieving that better life for their families.