Guest Workers Get Screwed

by Amy Traub cross posted at DMIblog.
Immigration legislation proposed this year has included a large national guest worker program as a way to bring currently undocumented immigrant workers out of the shadows and provide an above-board way to meet the continued demand for immigrant labor. While many immigrant rights groups have embraced the guest worker idea, DMI has warned against it, due to what we see as the high potential for abuse and exploitation of guest workers, which ultimately threatens wages and working conditions for native-born American workers.

As a case this week in New Orleans illustrates our point. The U.S. already has several small guest worker-type programs, including the H2-B visa program, which allows employers to recruit non-professional foreign workers for temporary jobs when no U.S. employees can be found. It was under this program that 82 guest workers from South American and the Caribbean paid thousands of dollars in recruiting and travel fees to work in a number of hotels in downtown New Orleans. But once they were in the country, and legally prohibited from switching jobs or getting additional part-time work, they were never given the promised number of working hours -- meaning they couldn't make ends meet in the U.S., much less pay off their steep travel debt and send the money home that was the entire point of the trip. According to their lawyer "They are captive workers in a situation of virtual debt peonage."

We might care about this situation because we sympathize with workers like Peruvian Humberto Jimenez, who mortgaged his house to get the cash to pay the recruiting fee, or Bolivian Theresa Ortiz, who fears she will return home poorer and deeper in debt than when she arrived. But this case isn't just about sympathy for foreign workers: it's about the American middle class.

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Keep our "Google this, Congress" Campaign Alive

In Congress at the Midterm: Their 2005 Middle-Class Record, DMI gave each member of Congress a grade based on how they voted on legislation of importance to current and aspiring middle-class Americans.

On June 20, we launched a one month Google AdWord campaign so that any person using Google to find information on their Member of Congress would instantly see an advertisement showing that member's grade on our
middle class report and a link to their full report card.

We need your help to keep our Google campaign running.

Please help DMI raise $16,693.15 and keep our Middle-Class Google Ads through November 7!!

You're a blog reader. You know the DMI Congressional Middle Class Scorecard. Maybe you are one of the many, many blogs that has used the scorecard as a resource. Now you can help us keep the google adwords campaign alive so it can continue to give countless web surfers vital information about their elected representatives. Look- it only takes 300 people to donate $50 today to make the goal.  But we are happy with $10, $20, $5,000, whatever you like!!  

Since June 20, 6,802,566 people have seen our ads and learned more about their members of Congress, the important legislation debated in DC in 2005, and today's obstacles to achieving the American Dream.

Donate Today:

To keep the campaign active, we need to raise $16,693.15. Please click here to donate today.

Blog It Today:
If you are a blogger please help us by cross posting this on your blog so we can spread the word.

If 300 people donate $50 today, we can make it, and let Congress know that millions of Americans are watching.

We'll be tracking our fundraising progress here the DMIblog because we view this as a netroots campaign at its heart. This is a chance to show the power of the netroots in forcing more government transparency so help us spread the word and if you can donate, please do.

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Shuster gets a big fat Zero

The Drum Major Institute for public policy, a non Partisan, non profit organization has recently rated the performance of Congress in addressing issues concerning the middle class.  Congress, as a whole, was rated rather poorly.

"In 2005, Congress disdained the concerns of middle-class Americans and opted instead to favor the already wealthy and powerful in vote after vote. This is a surefire recipe for a shrinking middle class and the wrong direction for the vast majority of Americans striving to attain or hold onto a middle-class standard of living. But the nation will not change course unless citizens have the information they need to hold their elected representatives accountable." DMI COngress report.

Representative Bill Shuster (R PA-09) was among those legislators to receive the Institute's most pejorative ratings (F - 0%)
Of the seven bills used as a bell weather to rate performance, Rep. Shuster voted against middle class Americans on all seven. Representative Shuster's dismal performance proves that he has no regard for ordinary Americans and seeks only to kowtow to the wealthy and privileged.

Read the DMI report: ss/

Help Send Bill Shuster back to his used car lot by supporting Tony Barr for Congress

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How Congress Voted: Immigration Edition

By Amy Traub from the DMIblog. Thought this was up yer alley.
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Among the most interesting pieces of feedback we've received on our newly released scorecard, Congress at the Midterm: Their 2005 Middle-Class Record, comes from Solomon Grundy at the Left Behind blog, who notes that "DMI is not evaluating whether the middle class supports the legislation, but whether the legislation supports the middle class."

He's absolutely right -- our scorecard is not a poll of what people in a particular income segment believe in terms of public policy. Instead, we're interested in discussing legislation that would support and expand the American middle class (or, as is far more common this year, bills that would undercut and shrink it). The aim is both to inform readers about how Congress voted and to educate them about the issues.  And nowhere is the distinction between the existing state of public opinion and the reality of policies that would benefit the middle class and aspiring middle class more evident than the case of immigration.  

The Border Protection, Anti-terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act is one of 11 bills we featured in the scorecard.  Today, the Washington Post reports that House Republican leaders believe this 'deport 'em all' bill is far more popular with voters, than any compromise they could work out with the Senate. Yet as we argue in our explanation of the bill, and at greater length in our paper on immigration policy and the middle class, the evidence suggests that just cracking down on illegal immigrants isn't the best policy for the American middle class.

The paper grapples with two conflicting points: on the one hand, immigrants, including undocumented workers, have become an integral part of the U.S. economy. In the words of a recent New York Times article, they're working hard and paying taxes. On the other hand, because employers can always threaten to have them deported, they're vulnerable in the labor market and threaten to undercut the wages of workers aspiring to join the middle class. That suggests that while the middle class is right to feel threatened by the prevalence of illegal immigration, the House's get tough measure is not the right response. Instead, the American middle class would be best served by a policy that bolsters and recognizes immigrants' economic contribution while at the same time making sure they have sufficient rights in the workplace to get a fair deal in the labor market -- no longer threatening to drive down middle-class wages.  

This nuanced position may not be what currently commands a majority of public opinion, but that's why DMI, as a public policy institute with a mission to challenge tired orthodoxies, is working to promote our analysis through the new Congressional scorecard and beyond.

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Scorecard says Congress fails the middle class...again

Cross posted from the DMIblog by Andrea .
So much talk about the politics, and who is campaigning with President Bush, and what Karl Rove is or is not freed up to focus on, and where the contributions are flowing.

It's easy to forget that the Congressional midterm elections are not just a referendum on the political parties or a bellweather for the '08 presidential campaign. They are actually about something a bit more substantive, namely whether Congress actually fulfilled its mission of voting in the interest of the people who put them into office.

Today, DMI releases our third annual scorecard of Congress, "Congress at the Midterm: Their 2005 Middle-Class Record," and the results are not positive. In fact, the results are pathetic. In vote after vote, Congress disdained the concerns of middle-class Americans and opted instead to favor the already wealthy and powerful: a surefire recipe for a shrinking middle class.

We release this scorecard each year because there are too few tools to engage the broad swath of Americans who want to work their way into the middle class or just try to hold onto their spot in a discussion about policy. When people actually do focus on policy, they often do it in these limited silos -- today is "tax day" or tomorrow is about "choice" and Friday we'll do "higher education" and then we'll talk about the "middle class" but we won't actually connect it to policy, to the actual votes that our legislators make that determine whether this thing called the middle class can exist.

The public is dissatisfied with Congress. They have a gut feeling that no one in DC is representing their interests. Well, as the scorecard showed, they are right. Congress championed the wish lists of oil companies, the insurance industry, and credit card issuers over the concerns of middle-class consumers and small businesses, while making it harder for ordinary citizens to hold corporate wrong-doers accountable.

Will we make friends out of this report? No. The party in power deserves most of the blame, but too many Democrats were right behind them on critical issues like the bankruptcy bill, preserving our civil justice system, and the Energy Bill, Inc.  But we're not in it to make friends, as evidenced by our decision to launch a 30-day Google Ad Word campaign today. Whenever anyone googles a member of Congress, an ad will pop up revealing that representative's score on our scorecard, with a link to our report.  (Try it, but hold yourself back - we pay by the click).

The only way Congress will ever make better policy is if they know their constituents are watching.
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Read what other blogs are saying on the scorecard
Sirota Blog
Ben Smith on NY Daily News

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