Outrage! Stimulus Money Goes to Pay Foreign-Born (But Legal) Workers

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

December 1, 2011

On October 17, the Department of Labor Department released its Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) report which revealed that more than $7 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds were paid out to four Oregon forestry services firms who hired no U.S. workers.

According to the report:

“Only two Oregonians were listed on the employer recruitment reports, indicating that workers in Oregon were likely unaware these job opportunities were available. In fact, although 146 U.S. workers were contacted by the three employers regarding possible employment, none were hired. Instead, 254 foreign workers were brought into the country for these jobs.”

The OIG interviewed local workers to find out why no Americans were hired and wrote:

“We spoke with two workers who reported that the employer used discouraging language, such as references to age and the ability to speak another language, which are not valid conditions of employment.”

A story written by the Northwest’s most prominent daily newspaper, The Oregonian, found bipartisan disgust with the practices exposed by OIG report.

Republican state Senator Chris Telfer said:

“This is a timber area and we haven’t been cutting trees for years. It really ticked off a lot of people here.”

U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio, a pro-environment moderate Democrat, added:

"It is obscene that U.S. companies were rewarded for abusing our American workers and immigration laws to undercut competition and squeeze more profits out of contracts. The goal of the stimulus bill was to put Americans back to work, not foreign nationals. Oregonians have been logging for over a century, our workforce is one of the best in the world and these contracts should have been awarded to companies that hire Oregon loggers."

In 2009, when the contracts were awarded, Oregon had the nation’s third highest unemployment rate (11.1 percent) and rural forest counties had above 15 percent unemployment.

Not surprisingly, employers used legal loopholes in the H-2B visa regulations to import their workers. Among other tactics the contractors deviously used to their advantage were the visa regulations that allowed them to hire four months before work started. That made unemployed workers who needed jobs immediately reluctant to commit to temporary jobs four months later.  [Federal Stimulus Money for Oregon Jobs Hired Foreign Workers, by Charles Pope, The Oregonian, October 21, 2011]

Out of 146 American workers contacted about possible employment, none were hired! And yet 254 foreign-born workers got jobs legally!

De Fazio and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden vow that they will keep after the Labor Department that has promised to revise the H-2B visa language. [Congress Taking Steps to Deal with Illegal Immigration, by Joe Guzzardi, Lodi News-Sentinel, March 5, 2011]

In the meantime, the Oregon scandal is another glowing example of how hurtful to American workers the U.S. legal immigration system is.

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