Posted on Aug 28, 2009
John M Grau
On Tuesday, I received a call from The White House. I was asked if I would attend a meeting there on Thursday. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was hosting a roundtable discussion on the topic of comprehensive immigration reform. This is one of the issues that NECA follows, so I said yes.
Immigration reform is one of the administration’s top issues, but it has been on the back burner while Congress deals with other major legislation — which at the moment is health care reform. Immigration is expected to be on the docket in 2010, so the meeting I attended was an effort both to get ready for the legislation and to start the selling process.
At present, NECA has three main concerns regarding immigration — (1) vicarious liability under any employment verification system, (2) border security, and (3) the need to streamline the H-2 visa system for construction needs. I spoke to Secretary Napolitano and White House and DHS officials on the third point.
I noted that the current H-2 visa system is too cumbersome, especially for employers with emergency manpower needs. As an example, I told about our line contractors’ need for linemen following Hurricane Katrina. Qualified, trained IBEW linemen were available in Canada, but the visa requirements made it nearly impossible for them to work in the United States — at least on a timely basis. I suggested that employers, or perhaps labor-management groups like NECA-IBEW, should be able to pre-qualify for worker entry visas.
Most other aspects of immigration reform were discussed during our two-and-one-half-hour meeting. It was encouraging to see the administration listen to our concerns. Of course, we don’t know if they will accept any of our suggestions or not.
Near the end of the meeting, President Obama popped in to say hello and to thank us for participating. It was the first time I met the president in person.
NECA’s presence in, and influence on, national political and legislative matters continues to grow. This week’s White House meeting is just one more example of that.