President Donald Trump, returning to a major theme of his campaign, has taken aim at foreign workers, signing an executive order on Tuesday that will, as he said, “protect our jobs and finally put America first.”
Wait, has he forgotten who works at Mar-a-Lago?
The cooks, the waiters and waitresses, the housekeepers — Trump got permission from the U.S. Department of Labor last year to hire 64 of them from foreign countries through the government’s H-2B visa program at $10.17 to $12.74 per hour. That program allows employers to hire foreigners for temporary, seasonal, non-agricultural work and is often used in the tourism and resort industries.
But there was the president on Tuesday in Kenosha, Wis., targeting the H-1B visa program, which the White House says undercuts U.S. workers by bringing in large numbers of cheaper, foreign workers and driving down U.S. wages.
This sure seems hypocritical — as Trump’s foes were quick to point out during last year’s election campaign, when the Labor Department permitted 69 temporary visas for Mar-a-Lago. Trump defended himself by saying there simply weren’t enough skilled American workers to take those jobs. “It’s very, very hard to get people,” Trump said during a debate in March 2016. “Other hotels do the same thing.”
But employment experts in Palm Beach County said then that there are plenty of workers ready, willing and able to do that work. And Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, then a Trump opponent for the Republican presidential nomination, said Trump uses the program to drive down wages.
“When you bring someone in on one of these visas they can’t go work for anybody else,” Rubio said during that March 2016 debate. “They either work for you or they have to go back home. You basically have them captive, so you don’t have to worry about competing for higher wages with another hotel down the street. And that’s why you bring workers from abroad.”
Trump’s executive order, signed with a flourish at a Snap-On Inc. factory in a state he narrowly carried on the strength of white working-class voters, actually isn’t all that muscular. It does little more than order U.S. agencies to propose rules to prevent immigration fraud and abuse in the H-1B program, and to propose changes to ensure that the visas go to the most-skilled and highest-paid applicants.
The tech industry argues that the program is crucial to their companies’ success, because it enables smart college students to stay in the U.S. after getting degrees in high-tech specialties. And they say they can’t always find enough American workers with the skills they need — an argument that sounds just like Trump the Campaigner’s.
The program, however, has been terribly abused. Walt Disney World, for example, fired 250 employees in 2015 and replaced them with people with H-1B visas through an Indian outsourcing firm. Worse, the Disney workers had to train their own replacements.
So yes, clamp down on the misuse of foreign visas that allows cost-cutting employers to improve their balance sheets at the expense of American workers.
But Donald Trump’s turn as a hero of this political theater he calls “Buy American and Hire American” rings hollow when many of his Trump-branded products, from ties to chandeliers to vodka, are made overseas.
And when the cooks, waitresses and housekeepers at his “southern White House” are shipped in from abroad, taking jobs that Palm Beach County people could be doing.
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