Politics

Bush, Rubio Come Under Fire on Immigration

Pro-enforcement group's campaign in Florida highlights how Disney workers were replaced by foreigners

A group favoring increased immigration restrictions has launched a nearly $1 million campaign in Florida to ensure that the issue remains front and center during the state’s crucial March 15 primary.

Candidates who might be hurt include a pair of Florida’s favorite sons. Jeb Bush has argued that more foreign workers would spur economic growth. Sen. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, helped write a bill in 2013 that would have drastically increased foreign workers. His current platform emphasizes “work- and skill-based immigration.”

The campaign started last month and will run through February and possibly into March. It highlights Walt Disney World employees who lost their jobs in 2014 and then had to train foreign replacements to replace them. The effort will include radio and TV ads, along with an aggressive online component. It comes as a pair of fired Disney workers are pursuing federal lawsuits against the company and the consulting firms that recruited the replacement workers.

“This issue needs to be discussed in Florida in February and March,” said Federation for American Immigration Reform President Dan Stein, whose organization is paying for the ads. He said the campaign may be expanded to other states.

The ads do not mention the candidates or the winner-take-all presidential primary in Florida. But it could cause discomfort for candidates who have supported the H-1B visa program, which Disney used to import replacement workers from India.

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Sen. Ted Cruz in 2013 supported quintupling the number of H-1B visas but has since has reversed his stance. On “The Laura Ingraham Show” in November, he cited “allegations of abuses by major companies” as the impetus for the change. In December, he co-sponsored legislation that would require H-1B salaries to be at least $110,000 a year and establish a two-year “cooling-off period” barring companies from applying for H-1B visas if they had laid off workers.

In one of the ads running in Florida, former employee Lee Perrero, recalls walking into a meeting with about two dozen fellow employees and getting the news that he was losing his job. To add insult to injury, he says, the executive who delivered the news instructed the workers that they would have to stay on the job for 90 days to train their replacements.

“If we don’t do that, we won’t get our severance pay of bonuses,” he says on screen. “I just felt extremely betrayed and humiliated to go through that.”

Perrero has been one of the few fired Disney workers willing to speak out publicly. Most of the rest have feared losing their severance under the terms of a confidentiality agreement they signed with the company.

“Employers are buying the silence of displaced Americans through extortion, blackmail,” Stein said. “It’s not usual that you are able to get American workers to come out and talk about it.”

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The Disney case is perhaps the highest-profile example of an American company using imported foreign workers to replace U.S. workers. But Stein said the practice dates to the 1990s when AIG used the same tactic. Other companies that have employed the strategy recently include Souther California Edison and Toys ’R’ Us.

“Now, it’s becoming rampant,” Stein said. “It’s widespread … There’s no end to the exploitation and abuse.”

The H-1B visa is one of a number of nonimmigrant programs that allow foreigners to come to the United States temporarily to work. Created in the 1990s, it was designed to give companies access to foreigners who possess specialized skills that they cannot find in the American labor force. But critics contend that companies have used the visa program to attract all sorts of classifications of skilled workers at lower salaries than prevailing wages.

Stein said a disproportionate share of the new jobs created in recent months have gone to foreign-born workers. He said about two-thirds of the more than 9 million Americans who have degrees in science, technology, engineering or math are working in other fields.

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