[Congressional Record: October 4, 2000 (House)]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Isakson). Under a previous order of the House, the gentlewoman from North Carolina (Mrs. Clayton) is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Mr. Speaker, I want to express my appreciation to the gentleman from Colorado (Mr. McInnis) and the other Members on the other side who are allowing me to proceed.
Mr. Speaker, last night, under the cloak of darkness, without notice, without the opportunity to participate by voice vote on an unwritten suspension calendar, after we had been told there would be no further votes for the day, at a time when most Members had left the Chamber for evening activities, the House passed S. 2045, legislation related to the increase of H-1B visas.
I was not necessarily opposed to the bill, formally entitled the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act. I was opposed to not having a debate about it.
But with such vitally important legislation, in an area of critical importance to this Nation, immigration policy, this House should have had a chance to debate this matter, air the many views that emerged during the House committee consideration of a similar measure, and voted in the light of day on the bill.
It is wrong, Mr. Speaker. It is inexcusable. And the American people deserve to know what some in this House did. The Senate bill increased H-1B visas, in the light of day, to allow some 200,000 additional high-tech workers to come to America from other countries, to work over the next 3 years. I had amendments prepared to expand this legislation to provide these same employment opportunities and training opportunities to the United States workers in rural communities.
Professionals who work in specialty occupations are admitted to the United States on a temporary basis through the H-1B visa category, the largest category of temporary foreign workers. The increase was pushed by many in the business community, especially those in the information technology area, which is experiencing an economic explosion and unprecedented job growth.
The amendments I had prepared would have made sure that those living in rural America would have the opportunity to secure a position in this rapidly expanding job market before employers look outside the United States to bring in foreign workers. Not that we are against bringing in foreign workers, we just want the same opportunity for those who live in rural America.
The House Committee on the Judiciary marked up and reported H.R. 4227, the Technology Worker Temporary Relief Act. Among the many bills introduced, there were three others related to the same subject, increasing numerical limitations on H-1B visas, that also should be considered. Those bills were H.R. 3983, H.R. 4402, and H.R. 4200.
Despite the rosy economic picture in America, too many Americans are being left out. For those Americans, many of them living in rural America over at least a 20-year period, there has
been a troubling trend, a trend that affects the very quality of their life. During these 2 decades, income and wealth inequality, the disparity in income and wealth due to wages, accumulated wealth, investments and returns, have been well documented.
It is an alarming and disturbing trend because among those rural Americans left behind, fewer can afford healthy meals, fewer can afford health care for their families, and fewer can afford a college education for their children. It is an alarming and disturbing trend because rural America has been disproportionately affected. Consequently, rural America lags far behind other communities in personal access to the Internet as well as the total use of the Internet.
This disparity exacerbates the persistent poverty, high unemployment, inadequate health care and education resources. Thus, as the economy rapidly expands, rural communities find that it is far more difficult to participate.
Moreover, technological advances, which could provide some solutions to these conditions, elude rural communities because of digital disenfranchisement. Such advances as telemedicine, distance education and electronic government, depend upon Internet access.
It is clear that the competition among service providers that is driving the Internet explosion is not as concentrated in rural communities. The lack of population densities, the absence of essential infrastructure and the fact that rural communities are often spread over great distances are reasons cited for this lack of enthusiasm. Even the Department of Commerce has concluded in its Report, ``Falling Through The Net,'' that, ``Disparities clearly exist (and) . . . access comes hardest for Americans who are low-income . . . less educated, single-parent families, young heads-of-households, and (those) who live in the South, rural areas and central cities.''
However, these barriers should not, must not remain as impediments. A rising tide should lift all boats.
It is for these reasons that this House should have had the opportunity to debate, vote on and support amendments that would require education and training for American citizens who reside in rural and other depressed areas; amendments that would require both public and private sector entities to make reasonable and diligent efforts to find American citizens who are willing to be trained in information technology positions; that would raise the H-1B visa fees; and that would use those increased revenues to, in part, carry out the other amendment mandates.
Mr. Speaker, this House has not had the will to pass a modest increase in the minimum wage, an increase to help move millions of America's workers out of poverty. But we did find the will to pass a bill that mandates that foreign workers earn a minimum of $40,000 a year. That is what the H-1B Bill that passed provides.
Late last night, Mr. Speaker, those who favor large business interests won. But, the American people, especially those who live in rural America, the many willing and able unemployed workers and this Nation, lost.
It is clear, Mr. Speaker, that rural America indeed lost. In fact, the Nation lost. Indeed, I think we should make an opportunity for American workers as well.