Bush 41, Hero to Many, also Ushered in Cheap Labor Era

Few Americans have lived such a blessed life as George H. W. Bush. He is remembered as a great family man, married to Barbara for 73 years, a World War II hero who flew 58 combat missions which earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross, and a Yale University baseball star who played in the first College World Series.

Professionally, Bush was a U.S. Representative, Central Intelligence Agency director, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Vice President under Ronald Reagan and the nation’s 41st president elected in 1988, serving one term.

But despite his impressive resume, during his one White House term, Bush signed immigration legislation that led to decades of American worker displacement that continues today at breakneck speed. Some analysts point to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act as the major contributors to the dismantling of an immigration system intended to benefit Americans.

While those two acts accelerated unsustainable immigration levels, Bush’s signature on the Immigration Act of 1990 further increased immigration, created the diversity lottery, added new employment-based visas and granted work permits to a new migrant category, temporary protected status (TPS) holders, which dealt severe and enduring blows to Americans’ job security. Abruptly, American workers were forced to compete with a growing overseas labor pool that had reached U.S. shores.

Among the new visas created in the 1990 bill was what’s become the most notorious, the H-1B, originally created for specialty occupations, but which has come to dominate in the high tech industry. Also created was the H-2A for agriculture and the H-2–for low-skilled non-ag. During the nearly four decades since Bush signed the 1990 act, H and other employment-bases visas have left a documented history of fraud, abuse and American worker displacement.

When Bush signed S. 358, he said that the bill would maintain the U.S.’s “historic commitment to family reunification by increasing the number of immigrant visas allocated on the basis of family ties,” and acknowledged that it “dramatically increases the number of immigrants.” In his post-signing speech, Bush predicted a wave of exceptionally talented people including “scientists, engineers and educators.”

While some truly talented have entered, low-skilled, cheap labor workers, including H-1B, H-2A and H-2B, vastly outnumbered them. The abundant presence of low-skilled labor benefits employers who constantly lobby hard to increase visa totals. During the current congressional lame duck session, a GOP congressional group hopes to increase the annual H-2–visa cap from 66,000 to 132,000, evidence that the Bush-endorsed visa expansion only increases, with no end in sight.

In recent years, the federal government has issued record numbers of visas and green cards to low-wage immigrants which places a heavy burden on U.S. workers, taxpayers and community resources. Those who unfairly bear the economic brunt of the steady inflow of work-authorized immigrants are the already present lawful permanent residents and America’s minority workers, especially blacks and Hispanics.

Bush’s legacy has many successes, but he failed on immigration. American workers are still paying the price for Bush’s immigration miscalculation.

Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]