The White House has begun its long-awaited push for federal infrastructure legislation by promulgating a plan calling for $1.5 trillion in investment.
As many observers thought it would, the plan calls for a marriage of public-private enterprise projects. It goes so far as suggesting the sell-off of a number of federally owned items, such as Reagan National Airport, and the energy transmission facilities of the Bonneville Power Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The plan also suggests turning over a number of projects to states to manage and see to completion, via massive block grants and the like.
The plan is surprisingly detailed — perhaps though, on second thought, this is not a surprise at all, given its breadth. It encompasses federal investment to accomplish all kinds of air, rail, road, energy, and waterway infrastructure projects in both urban and rural parts of the country, and even covers job training.
As I blogged a bit over a month ago, the challenge is to think holistically when dealing with things of this magnitude, so that each and every item supports one or more of the president's many other important priorities, even when they superficially appear not to have any nexus. In many ways the plan does this, but where immigration control and the "Hire American" agenda is concerned, the plan appears to completely fail this holistic thinking benchmark.
There are no statements embedded anywhere in the plan that funding to initiate and complete the massive infrastructure projects envisioned must come with strict oversight to ensure that the jobs underlying them will be reserved for Americans and lawful workers, rather than illegal aliens. This is particularly important given the propensity of many construction companies to rely on such labor.
Nor is there any indicator that companies will be prohibited from heavily relying on cheap foreign guestworkers plentifully supplied by dubious brokers who make tens of millions of dollars connecting such workers in Third World nations with American companies looking to enhance their bottom line.
Finally, there isn't even a suggestion within the plan that any state or pass-through contract company will be required to use E-Verify as a matter of course, to at least winnow out some of the tens of thousands of aliens who will be using bogus documents to obtain infrastructure-related jobs . Perhaps this failing will be overcome by events, should an immigration bill actually pass both chambers of Congress that contains mandatory nationwide E-Verify provisions. But I wouldn't count on mandatory E-Verify being a part of such legislation — most of the bills to date don't include it. I wouldn't even rely on a bill passing both chambers.
I am also concerned that within the plan there is a "look-back" provision that would permit the lead federal agency for each project to reimburse states for funds already expended for projects in development that are approved as being within the context of the infrastructure plan. What this means in plain talk is that states — particularly, but not exclusively, California — that have actively thumbed their nose at federal immigration laws, including those requiring use of lawful workers, may actually be rewarded for monies expended on projects that included significant employment of illegal aliens.
The look-back that permits reimbursement of expenditures ought to contain a proviso that precludes states or pass-through companies from seeking reimbursement until after an audit of their employment eligibility forms I-9 and a review of their hiring and firing records show that they were using a clean workforce.
We cannot and should not take anything as a given. The only way 1) to ensure that infrastructure project workers won't be unscreened; 2) to be certain that illegal aliens won't occupy significant percentages of the construction and other workforces; and 3) to winnow out cheap foreign guestworkers so that Americans have a shot at the engineering and other technical jobs, is for the White House to embed its expectations into the framework (which, presumably, is this plan) and state for the record that any infrastructure bill passed from Congress to the president's desk for signature must indeed represent a "Buy American, Hire American" agenda, while at the same time advancing the notion that the rule of law is paramount where our nation's immigration system is concerned.
It is a deep disappointment to not see any of these preconditions in the plan.
After all, if it is true that jobs are a primary magnet that draws aliens to overstay their visas or illegally cross the border — and make no doubt, jobs are such a magnet — then I can't think of a bigger magnet than $1.5 trillion worth of jobs being created by the magic of a federal infrastructure package.