[Congressional Record: October 4, 2000 (House)]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
H-1B VISA LEGISLATION PASSES IN DARK OF NIGHT
The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Isakson). Under a previous order of the House, the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Jackson-Lee) is recognized for 5 minutes.
Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, obviously we are having the opportunity to have vigorous discussions on the floor of the House. But, Mr. Speaker, I want to draw my colleagues' attention to the time. It is 3:15 Eastern Standard Time, and we are now engaged in what we call special orders, an opportunity to speak to our colleagues and others on very important issues.
I raise this point of time because yesterday in the dark of evening, with barely a 10-minute to 15-minute notice, it was found necessary to bring to the floor of the House a major piece of legislation disallowing any debate by the procedure of suspension which disallows debate and amendments to improve on the status of the legislation, and it passed in the dark of night with no official rollcall vote. That legislation is H-1B nonimmigrant visas.
Let me say, Mr. Speaker, I realize that there is a great need to deal with the necessity of employment in our high-tech industry. In fact, as I look at the cap, the number of H-1B visas that would have been allowed, 195,000, I am sure if we would have been allowed to debate this legislation, we might have seen a consensus of increasing the number.
But yesterday, our Republican majority saw fit in the dark of night to bring it up when many Members were not noticed about it. What we find that has occurred, Mr. Speaker, is that American workers go longing.
American workers are not protected by ensuring that those who come into this country have the minimum salary being paid to them so that they do not come in and be underpaid what American workers can have. There is nothing in the bill that requires employers to recruit or hire or train American workers.
It is known that African American workers are only 11 percent of the high-tech industry, and they continue to be underemployed. There is nothing in the bill that requires the high-tech industry to file their EEO-1 forms just to ensure us that they are hiring Hispanics, African Americans and women and other minorities. There is nothing in the bill that requires employers to take constructive steps to recruit qualified American workers and to cross-train and to work with Hispanic-serving institutions and historically black colleges. There is nothing in the bill which requires the employers to comply with the Department of Labor regulations, and there is nothing in the bill that provides fairness and amnesty for certain of those who are requiring such.
But my point, Mr. Speaker, is this. This bill was worthy of a vigorous discussion. There is nothing in the bill that deals with how do we help rural Americans. Even though the economy is booming, there are certain pockets of our Nation where there is double-digit unemployment. I believe the high-tech industry has a lot to offer, so it would have been prudent for us to be on the floor of the House to tell the American worker we are not forgetting them; that as we bring in necessary immigrant workers on nonimmigrant visas from other countries that we value their contributions.
This is not an effort to start a bashing of those who serve well in this industry, but it is a disappointment to me that those of us who had other viewpoints, among the many pieces of legislation that could have been offered in amendments, we were not given the opportunity. Therefore, our constituents are left in the dark, holding the bag of unemployment because this Congress refused to discuss major legislation impacting Americans in the broadness of light.
Interestingly enough, there was a legislative, a particular initiative, that included in that the employer would undertake an obligation not to displace United States workers, obligation of petitioning employers. So there was language in another bill that did not get discussed that would require those high-tech industries to at least document that they were not displacing an American worker. Can we do any less?
And then, Mr. Speaker, I would like to cite Mr. John William Templeton, a co-convener of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Silicon Valley: ``It is asserted that the digital divide has become a convenient excuse for some firms to avoid training and hiring hispanic and black workers. Instead, these companies prefer to hire foreign workers, such as those brought in under the H-1B program, who often command lower salaries.'' That is unfair to them as well.
So, Mr. Speaker, I offer my enormous disappointment and my commitment to continue working until the last day of this session to make sure that Americans as well as those who are needed by the industry are treated fairly; that our institutions of higher learning, who voluntarily want to participate in the high-tech industry, can get involved and that we can close the digital divide and ensure that those who are here, who want to be trained, our children in schools in both urban and rural areas, Mr. Speaker, can be the kind of skilled workers that will provide the employment base for the high-tech industry.
Good Evening, Mr. Speaker. I approach the debate on the H1-B visa program with a very heavy heart. Why? Because I have spent a considerable amount of time this year in my capacity as Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims in trying to come up with a reasonable H-1B bill that would protect American workers and meet the needs of the business community.
I have said on numerous occasions, that I support the Hi-tech industry but I also support our American workforce. I worked very hard in the House Judiciary Committee to come up with a bill that would protect American workers, and I am saddened that the bill that passed yesterday evening falls short of that requirement. The bill that passed out of the Judiciary Committee contained provisions that compelled employers to take certain steps that would protect American workers. However, what is most glaring for me are the lack of any provisions that protect minority American workers who are grossly under represented in the High-tech industry. Nothing in the bill establishes an opportunity for the hi-tech industry to work with HBCU's and Hispanic-Serving institutions and recruit minority workers.
African Americans are especially impacted by discriminatory hiring practices in the information technology field. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the hiring of African Americans in high technology has improved only slightly during the past decade. According to a 1999 report, Silicon Ceiling:
Solutions for Closing the Digital Divide, approximately 80% of the high technology companies in Silicon Valley do not file EEO-1 forms or affirmative action reports with the Joint Reporting Committee representing federal civil rights enforcement agencies. Clearly there's work to be done to ensure that African Americans have fair access to the lucrative high tech labor market. There is nothing in the current bill that ensures that. Democrats or Republicans did not get a chance to offer any amendments; we were not afforded an opportunity to go to the Rules Committee; and we were not allowed to effect the process, to change the legislation. Democracy was absent in the consideration of this bill.
I would have surely offered an amendment that would require the H-1B employers to report to the Department of Labor how they are recruiting and hiring American workers, particularly those who are members of under represented minority groups. I do not see anything wrong with holding the High-tech community accountable for not only who they hire, but who they do not.
I am very concerned about raising the cap of these H-1B visas. Although it is true that in recent years the high tech industry has fueled enormous growth in the United States and has benefited the corporate information technology, and raising the cap on these types of specialty workers should include an increased commitment to training of U.S. workers. The growing workforce of our country and the strength and growth of the high tech industry in particular can be met effectively by fully developing the skills of our own workers as a first priority, before hiring highly specialized foreign workers. We can have the best of both worlds--expert foreign workers (which create more jobs in America) and trained professional American workers prepared to work in the most sophisticated sectors of the Hi-tech industry.
There has been a lot of discussion in recent months about including immigration provisions with the H-1B legislation. On the Senate side, they call it L.I.F.A., the Latino Immigration Fairness Act. The work ``fairness'' is in the title because how can we possibly lift the cap, and bring in 585,000 foreign hi-tech workers, and ignore the people who are already here? Where is our sense of justice, of equality, of fairness? This H-1B legislation should have: provided relief to late amnesty applicants who have significantly contributed to the American economy; providing parity through the 1997 NACARA law by offering amnesty to Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Haitians.
Our immigration law contains a provision-called ``registry''--that gives immigrants who have been here without proper documents an opportunity to adjust to permanent status if they have been here for a long enough time and have nothing in their background that would disqualify them from immigrant status. This year, a bill that I have sponsored, H.R. 4172, the ``Legal Amnesty Restoration Act of 2000'', is before the Congress. This legislation updates the cutoff date for the ``statute of limitations,'' which is now set at 1972. In fact, the majority of immigrants who would benefit from updating the registry date are those who qualified to apply for legalization in the mid-1980s, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) misinterpreted the law. If their applications had been accepted and processed properly when they should have been, many, if not most of these immigrants would already be citizens. It is unfair and incorrect to refer to these people as ``illegal aliens.''
Instead, they have been fighting the immigration bureaucracy for more than a decade and are now threatened with deportation. The provisions in my bill which should have been included with the H-1B legislation, or considered for independent House floor action would ensure that the registry provision is continuously updated by moving the registry cutoff date to 1986. If these people are not given relief, hundreds of thousands of people will be forced to abandon their homes, will have to separate from their families, move out of their communities, be removed from their jobs, and return to countries where they no longer have ties.
The Congress also needs to address Central American and Haitian parity. It is long past time to offer Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Haitians the same opportunity to apply for permanent residence as was extended to the Nicaraguans and Cubans in 1997. Because immigrants from these countries have experienced similar violence and hardship, it is unjust to continue providing unequal treatment. Additionally, while these immigrants have been waiting for their cases to be resolved, they have been contributing to our economy and are needed to support the workforce needs of this country.
I believe that the current high demand market for certain technical specialities is that it should encourage us to retrain displaced workers, attract under represented women and minorities, better educate our young people, and retrain willing and able older workers who have been forced into unemployment.
I am very pleased that Section 12 of this bill provides much needed funding to help close the Digital Divide by putting computer learning centers in Boys and Girls clubs across the country. I sponsored and introduced with Congressman Lamar Smith H.R. 4178, the ``Kids 2000 Act'', that would authorize $20 million from the Violent Crime
Reduction Trust Fund each year for the next five years to operate the PowerUP program in Boys and Girls Clubs across the country. I am pleased that the exact language from both my bill and the Senate companion version is in this bill.
This bill does not have language to ensure proper training of our incumbent workers. I believe we need more workers and we need to train more American workers as I come from a city that has over 1000 companies that specialize in information technology. This should be a non-partisan issue.
In conclusion Mr. Speaker, we need to approach the H1-B visa specialty program with two eyes wide open. One eye focused on looking out for our American workers to ensure proper training, and the other eye focused on the under representation of minorities and women in the high tech industry who currently comprise our American workforce.
I support H-1B visas, to improve our hi-tech industry but I also support our American workers. Thank-you Mr. Speaker.