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Grover Norquist has a new column in the NYT in which he casts himself as an immigration advocate. Norquist in this article is the same pompous, self-important douchebag he was in 2011 when he and his fellow Republicans were doing irreparable harm to the United States economy with their idiotic debt ceiling brinkmanship. But he may have ironically done us a favor here by issuing a wake-up call about the very corrupt, dangerous interests behind certain versions of immigration "reform", and what their versions would look like. It may also suggest a need to re-evaluate strategies for immigration reform to focus more on executive orders than on a so-called reform bill, that very well may wind up being written by corporate lobbyists, the Chambers of Commerce and reactionary interests obsessed with cheap labor, general lowering of US wages and brutal exploitation of immigrants as serfs.

 I have the sense that the vast majority of mammals and other sentient, presumably intelligent organisms can't bear more than a few words of Norquist and his smirky, bloviating arrogance, so I'll summarize his article here.

Norquist shows his hand above all at the start and the finish of his piece. He kicks it off by championing the H-1B visa as the ultimate virtue of regressive immigration reform. He concludes it by endorsing Paul Ryan's human rights atrocity posing as a budget bill, and shilling for an end to fully solvent "entitlements" and safety nets like Social Security and Medicaid. (Subtle hints to the chained-CPI booster crowd, who would be effectively associating themselves with this creep).

This pairing isn't accidental. The H-1B visa program represents the very worst of our immigration policy, the opposite of progressive principles and simple good policy in practically every way. It's part-and-parcel of the general arsenal of the Koch Brothers and other plutocrats to gut the wages of working Americans and the fragile safety net that's critical to our communities. The H-1B is effectively controlled by employers, not by the immigrants themselves, and it's used to ruthlessly extract labor from the foreign workers shipped in. They're in effect unable to change jobs, unable to seek redress for corporate abuses, unable to settle or vote. After being brutally exploited for the term of their visa, their health and their quality of life often broken, they're then duly discarded and replaced by someone else. In the view of the corporations, with heavily populated countries like India crammed with a billion people, there's an endless supply of cheap labor ready to exploit, basic human dignity and human rights be damned. I've seen horror stories in this regard that I can hardly stand to even think about, workers being pushed to 120-hour work weeks, ruined health and exhaustion and then cruelly cast aside.

The vicious effects on American workers aren't hard to predict. Even though H-1B workers in theory, are supposed to be paid the same as US workers, in practice fraud is rampant as you could probably guess. And many American corporations and execs, led most recently by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook (finally the reason I needed to ditch my FB account), are trying to enshrine this cheap-labor fraud into law. So H-1B workers in practice are brought in as dirt-cheap labor hires under wages and conditions that come as close as anything to modern slavery, against which even the best and most promising American STEM and tech grads can't hope to secure a job, let alone a living wage. So American graduates wind up slipping even deeper into indentured servitude and debt peonage, chronically unemployed or underemployed, with no realistic prospect of paying back their school loans (student loans being probably the worst form of indebtedness as Elizabeth Warren has pointed out). No way to obtain decent health care, no means to simply make a living, start a family or advance in their careers other than emigration- which I know a number of people are doing, especially to European or East Asian countries that treat their own immigrant engineers like human beings, rather than the economic cannon fodder that H1-B's become in the hands of regressives like Grover Norquist.

Oh, and as wages are pushed further into the ground, tax receipts crumble and deficits explode, giving crooks like Norquist even more excuse to shill for the elimination of the safety net. Only the corporations and the plutocrats win with the H-1B visa, everyone else- workers, immigrants, seniors, kids- loses out big. The disinformation campaign about the H-1B by the corporations and outsourcers has been very well-funded, so much so that even many progressive members of Congress, most notably Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, have been suckered into supporting an increase in the H-1B. They rarely get a chance to hear the full story, how this visa is not in any way a tool to attract high-skilled immigrants for settlement and starting businesses, but is instead little more than a tool to undercut US wages and exploit still more cheap labor (hence Grover Norquist's latest bout of shilling).

If nothing else, Grover's piece is a warning to us to stay alert. Immigration reform is not automatically a progressive process, in fact it can be a dangerously regressive one in the wrong hands, aka the corporate lobbyists in the era of Citizens United. Regressive immigration reform, like increasing the H-1B visa program and using it as a template for other aspects of immigration policy (which seems to be Norquist's goal), could enshrine wage-depressing and corrupt corporate-empowering provisions for a generation, while discouraging more sensible reforms down the road since "we've already done immigration reform" in the minds of the politicians.

The big danger is that Obama, Reid and Pelosi desperate to save political face and pass "some immigration reform bill, any bill" to look like they're doing something, might become tempted to advocate for even an awful, regressive bill if it would give them a "victory" in the eyes of the shallow, superficial corporate media. I might have had less apprehension about this if not for the recent chained CPI debacle and the truly craptacular watering-down of the assault weapons bill to shut down even common sense background checks favored by 90% of the population. (Not to mention the foolish bargaining away of single payer and the Public Option in the ACA, which IMHO remains the single most glaring failure of Obama's otherwise accomplished first term.) This simply can't be allowed. A bad immigration bill is far worse than no immigration bill at all, and this isn't something that can be accomplished with washy-washy compromises, half-measures and giving-away-the-farm in nebulous hopes of GOP reciprocation. Other provisions of the bill are also suspicious, for example the various fines being levied (basically a gift to Payday lenders and the predatory lending/financial industry). Plus the even lengthier stretched-out times to apply for citizenship, beyond the already ridiculous levels (i.e. probably no realistic prospect for citizenship and the right to vote at all). And this is even before we get into the banning of naturalization rights for LGBT couples.

The good news, at least, is that this doesn't mean President Obama is powerless to bring about some commonsense improvements in immigration policy. This is one area where his executive powers give him enormous leeway outside the legislative process. The major problem with immigration policy right now is largely administrative- the wait times for naturalization are getting ridiculous due to inadequate staff and resources to process applicants and swear in citizens. (Also something that the Republicans are fond of, since they get to exploit cheap labor without immigrants having the right to vote.) Obama can help to encourage more expeditious naturalization of immigrants, and an overall facilitation of the process, with a stroke of his pen. And since undocumented immigrants can be sponsored by adult children and other family members, simply getting through the current backlog would go a long way to solving at least part of the problem. Bill Clinton IIRC did exactly this sort of thing with the Citizenship USA initiative during his first term, helping to clear a severe backlog in the rolls.

Given the current situation, this may be the best option, saving comprehensive legislation for the day when the GOP has fallen apart as a political force, with Citizens United overturned, without the House under gerrymandered control of the GOP, and when our legislators can write legislation with the 99% in mind, rather than simply shilling for garbage put out by corporate lobbyists. It may well be impossible to trust the current bill with people like Grover Norquist and the Chambers of Commerce writing so much of its critical content. I'll summarize these issues a bit more comprehensively in a companion diary, but for now, I'm wondering if the executive powers approach might wind up being the best way to go. Above all, contact your representatives in Congress to make it clear that only a progressive bill is acceptable, and that "corporate socialism" and cheap-labor giveaways like the H-1B are totally unacceptable.


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