GOP Immigration Hearing Takes Aim At Senate Wage Provision

Shannon McCaffrey, AP, August 14, 2006

Gainesville, Ga.—Georgia House Republicans on Monday blasted a provision in the U.S. Senate’s immigration bill that they say would allow immigrant guest workers to be paid more than Americans doing the same job.

At a congressional field hearing in north Georgia, Rep. Charlie Norwood said the Senate’s bill is the worst he has seen in 12 years of Congress.

“And you can rest assured it will not become law,” Norwood said to applause from the largely supportive crowd at the U.S. District Courthouse in Gainesville, Ga.

Outside, protesters held signs reading “No Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants.”

But a union official said Republicans have misinterpreted the prevailing wage provision of the Senate bill, which he said actually shields Americans from seeing their wages plummet in the face of entering guest workers.

“It protects American workers by preventing employers from using foreign labor to depress wage rates for American workers,” said Terry Yellig of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department.

The immigration issue has deadlocked Congress this session. Monday’s hearing of a subcommittee of the House panel on Education and Workforce is one of a series that congressional Republicans are holding in select states to highlight what they say are flaws in the Senate bill. The Senate bill permits guest workers to enter the United States to fill vacant jobs Americans do not take. House Republicans passed a bill improving border security.

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The hearing was designed to focus on the prevailing wage issue. The Senate bill contains a provision that would extend the prevailing wage established by the U.S. Department of Labor to jobs being filled by guest workers. Supporters of the measure say it is only a benchmark and without such a standard employers could advertise a job at an artificially low wage with the intent of attracting cheap labor. Critics say many Americans are paid below prevailing wage, which might mean they are paid less than guest workers from other countries.

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Hispanic community groups complained on Monday that they had been left off the witness list. Norwood made no apologies for that.

“What I wanted was witnesses who agree with me, not disagree with me,” Norwood said.

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