Congress still hasn’t passed a comprehensive overhaul of immigration policy, and the outlook does not look good for any timely action.
Last month the U.S. Senate approved its immigration bill, but a plan from the House could be delayed until September.
Georgia’s Capitol Hill crew of lawmakers has weighed in on the issue. And so have those running for office. Last week, Karen Handel, one of the major candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, entered the fray.
In an email and Twitter post, Handel denounced the legislation.
"The Senate immigration bill is over 1,000 pages long; filled with things like: rewards for au pair agencies, Alaskan seafood processors and Vegas casinos; and does not even secure the border."
Lawmakers are not known for their brevity, and we knew the final Senate bill was more than 1,000 pages. What piqued our interest was Handel’s claims about the rewards included for various industries. Those industries didn’t seem like key immigration components to us. We dug for more details.
Handel further criticizes the Senate bill in a longer statement posted on her campaign website.
"The bill is equivalent to the amnesty measures passed in the '80s that, in large part, got us into this mess in the first place," part of the message states. "It is heavy on rewarding illegal immigrants, light on border enforcement, and it's as loaded with pork as a rib cook off!"
Handel spokesman Dan McLagan pointed us to several news reports of the provisions written into the Senate amendment. A USA Today article provided the most detail.
These provisions, or "rewards" as Handel calls them, are part of a compromise amendment to the Senate bill. We’ll look at them individually:
Au pair agencies
This part of Handel’s claim centers on the J-1 cultural-exchange visitor visa program, which allows foreigners to enter the United States under a variety of categories ranging from camp counselors to professor and research scholars. About 350,000 people enter the U.S. under J-1 visas each year, including about 20,000 au pairs.
The Senate bill initially included language eliminating fees that recruiters charge foreign students to work in the U.S. But au pair agencies -- and other employee recruiting and placement agencies -- say the fees were necessary to cover administrative and travel costs for the au pairs. A compromise included in the Senate amendment still allows the fees but requires them to be set and regulated by the State Department. (Sec. 3911 of the bill)
Alaskan seafood processors
The final bill also includes a provision that would help the seafood industry in Alaska by allowing processors to bring in seasonal seafood workers under the summer work travel visa program. The Obama administration banned this practice last year to protect foreign exchange students from jobs the government considered dangerous.
The Senate bill also includes a provision designating seafood processing as a shortage occupation, thus making it eligible for longer-term guest workers under a new visa program. (Sec. 4408)
This item is included in a provision of the bill that effectively extends the Corporation for Travel Promotion forever. The CTP, which has been renamed Brand USA, is a federal program designed to promote U.S. tourism abroad. It is funded by a tax on international visitors and receives up to $100 million in federal funds to match funds raised from the private sector. That federal funding would have expired in 2015, but it was extended with no end date. (Sec. 1102)
When the Travel Promotion Act was passed in 2009 establishing the tourism promotion program, the hotels along the Las Vegas strip, which would benefit from the extra visitors, thanked Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., for his help in getting the bill passed.
We checked with immigration experts about the Senate bill and Handel’s statement. The general thrust of the statement is accurate, the experts said, but they noted that "rewards" is a subjective word choice.
To sum up, Handel said that the Senate immigration bill contains "rewards" for au pair agencies, Alaskan seafood processors and Vegas casinos.The provisions cited for the three industries are included in the legislation, along with several others.
The items were part of deals fought for by industry lobbyists and included to garner support for the bill. Whether that classifies them as "rewards" is a matter of opinion -- in this case, Handel’s opinion.
Handel spokesman McLagan argued for a "super true," but we’re content with a True rating.