Capitol Alert

California Assembly praises immigrants, warns about immigrant work visa

New naturalized citizens are sworn in on Sept. 17, 2013, during a special naturalization ceremony at Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium.
New naturalized citizens are sworn in on Sept. 17, 2013, during a special naturalization ceremony at Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The California Assembly loves immigrants – as long as businesses aren’t using them to displace American jobs.

While Congress has been unable to advance comprehensive immigration reform legislation, California has reeled off a series of bills expanding immigrant rights. So it was fitting that the Assembly spent part of Monday passing a resolution declaring June Immigrant Heritage month and praising the contributions of foreign-born Californians. Democrats and Republicans alike rose in support, and 75 lawmakers signed on as co-authors.

“Immigrants continue to develop and expand businesses, innovate, strengthen our economy, and create American jobs in California,” declared House Resolution 25.

Less worthy of praise, members argued, are immigrants who push out American workers by securing visas reserved for skilled employees. After passing the immigrant-honoring resolution, Assembly members advanced a labor-backed resolution urging the federal government to investigate alleged abuses of the H-1B visa program.

Intended for immigrants workers in specialty occupations, the H-1B visa has attracted criticism and congressional calls for scrutiny amid reports of U.S. companies like Southern California Edison and Disney using the program to replace American workers with cheaper foreign labor. The latest draft of Assembly Joint Resolution 12, which was sponsored by the Coalition of California Utility Employees, omitted initial references to Southern California Edison, which has denied the outsourcing allegations.

“This program was created to provide businesses with foreign workers who have skill sets that cannot be obtained here in our country, not to displace hardworking Americans,” said Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella.

Unlike the Immigrant Heritage Month measure, the visa resolution passed along party lines. Democrats spoke in favor of it, including members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, a force in the successful string of immigrant-related bills. But Republicans objected by calling the measure premature.

“It is unfortunate, unfair and essentially at this point unproven,” said Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, calling the measure “very, very unfair to a very important business here in all of our communities.”

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert

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