House GOP Witness Raises Alarm Among Immigration Reform Advocates

February 5, 2013 3:20 a.m.

How serious are House Republicans in taking up sweeping and comprehensive immigration reform? Democrats and outside observers are taking one look at the House Judiciary Committee’s GOP witness list for Tuesday’s immigration hearing and starting to worry.

On the list is Michael Teitelbaum, a senior official at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and a skeptic on the need for increased legal immigration, even in the case of the top flight scientists and engineers both Republicans and Democrats believe need a smoother path to U.S. citizenship.More liberal immigration policies for scientists and engineers is politically significant because it brings business and industry, especially high tech industries, into the sometimes-fragile coalition of immigration reform advocates.

“My main concern with Michael Teitelbaum is that his position in the past has been that we don’t need any more worker visas,” Tamar Jacoby told TPM Monday. Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a reform advocacy group backed by industry, said that Teitelbaum is known for opposing visas for unskilled workers as well as STEM workers. She said seeing his name on the GOP witness list was worrying for reform advocates.

Teitelbaum dismissed Jacoby as “a politician.”

Teitelbaum was a GOP appointee to the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, a bipartisan group established by Congress in 1990 that dissolved in 1997. He admits that he is skeptical of the call for guest worker programs and STEM visas, saying they’re rarely “temporary” and could cost Americas jobs. But says he’s going before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to reiterate the findings of the commissions.

From Teitelbaum’s prepared testimony:

Since the time of the Commission there have been claims about general “shortages” of scientists and engineers. There also has been a lot of research completed on this topic by independent groups such as the RAND Corporation, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, and by a growing number of respected university researchers. Almost all have concluded that the evidence does not support claims of generalized shortages of STEM workers in the US workforce. Yet I would add that shortages can and do appear in some particular STEM fields, at particular times and in particular places. To me this means that proposals to expand the number of visas for STEM fields should focus carefully and flexibly on those fields that can be shown to be experiencing excess demand relative to supply in the U.S. labor market.

In 2007, Teitelbaum appeared before members of the the House Science Committee to poke holes in the view from politicians and the business community that America needs to increase visas for those with so-called STEM degrees and make it easier for them to become permanent residents.

“Most temporary worker programs have turned out to be very different from the way their proponents have said they would work out,” told TPM. “Right around the world, it’s not just in the U.S. I know of one temporary worker program that’s actually temporary and is actually well administered and it’s a Canadian program,” he said. Asked if he believed they cost citizens jobs, he said “they caused tremendous problems. They weren’t temporary, they were permanent. Because the employers of temporary workers become dependent on them, and the lower wages and lower costs, including benefits.”

Many of the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted for last year’s bill aimed at increasing the number of STEM visas. But Teitelbaum’s appearance on Tuesday’s witness list raised eyebrows among committee Democrats as well as those in the business community hoping to see both houses come together for comprehensive immigration reform.

Teitelbaum said he was called by the Judiciary Committee GOP to testify at Tuesday’s hearing 10 days ago and declined to draw conclusions on their reasoning.

“I don’t have any knowledge of what the House Republicans have in mind. They simply invited me to testify and summarize the Commission’s findings,” he said. “I’m not part of the House Republicans, I don’t speak for them, I have no idea what their goals are.”

Jacoby said it’s too early to tell if Teitelbaum’s view will be the view of Judiciary Committee Republicans. “This is the beginning of a long game,” she said. “This is like Lewis and Clark. We’re starting out on the East Coast and then trying to get to the West Coast. And this is the very beginning of the journey. So I’m not going to get too flustered about who testifies at a hearing yet.”

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