Sen. Begich Angles to Bring Home Some S.744 Bacon: Low-Wage Foreign Workers to Process Alaska Salmon

By Jerry Kammer, June 23, 2013

Sen. Mark Begich, D-AK, is determined to bring home some bacon from the Senate immigration bill. Actually, it would be closer to the truth to say that he's bringing home some salmon filets. To be precise, his mission to bring home the foreign college students for which his state's powerful seafood-processing industry has developed a dependence that comes mighty close to addiction.

Begich, leveraging his vote with the Gang of Eight, has managed to insert in the Senate bill a provision that would nullify the State Department's decision to put seafood processing off-limits to the Summer Work Travel program.

Every year the notorious program provides J-1 visas to about 100,000 college students from around the world to do seasonal jobs. The State Department, over the resistance of the Alaska seafood lobby, had the integrity to acknowledge something that had been obvious for years: that a minimum-wage job that often requires 16-hour work days in isolated fish camps that provide scant contact with ordinary Americans has nothing to do with the mission of cultural exchange that is supposed to be central to the program.

The Center for Immigration Studies published an in-depth report by me exposing the Summer Work Travel program: "Cheap Labor as Cultural Exchange". And Sen. Bernie Sanders has denounced the entire SWT program as a sell-out of young Americans who desperately need work.

Well, Begich, who is expecting a tough Republican challenge in his 2014 reelection bid, does not have the populist instincts of a Bernie Sanders. So he has managed to shoehorn into the bill some language that was almost certainly handed to him by the Alaska seafood lobby. It is a marvel of the species, fit to be stuffed and mounted on a wall, like a 50-pound king salmon from the Copper River:

Sec. 4408:
(c) SUMMER WORK TRAVEL PROGRAM EMPLOYMENT
IN SEAFOOD PROCESSING.—Notwithstanding any other
provision of law or regulation, including part 62 of title
22, Code of Federal Regulations, or any proposed rule,
the Secretary of State shall permit participants in the
Summer Work Travel program described in section 62.32
of such title 22 who are admitted under section
101(a)(15)(J) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8
U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(J)), as amended by subsection (a), to
be employed in seafood processing positions in Alaska.