Congress is considering whether to give President Obama the power to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping international regulatory agreement the White House describes as "rules for the world's economy" — and the U.S. TPP regulates everything from the environment and energy (climate change, anyone?) to minimum wages, food and, most notably, immigration.
If approved, the Trans-Pacific Partnership would have the force of a treaty. Its regulations would override U.S. law. With fast-track trade promotion authority (TPA), only a simple majority in both houses of Congress, not a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate, would be needed for approval. Congress could not change any of the rules in it, and the White House would not be obligated to follow any directives Congress offers on what those rules should look like.
House members who were ready to defund the Department of Homeland Security to stop President Obama's executive action on immigration must not give him TPA, which he will use to ensure his immigration actions are locked in when he leaves office.
The U.S. Trade Representative says "temporary entry" guest worker visas are a "key feature" of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. "Temporary entry" reminds one of Milton Friedman's famous dictum: "Nothing is as permanent as a temporary government program."
TPP isn't the first time the Obama administration has used trade agreements to rewrite immigration law. Its U.S.-South Korea deal expanded the L-1 visa program, which corporations use to bring foreign workers into the U.S.
The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General slammed the L-1 program for fraud. Its crackdown met with pushback from the corporate community, and the Obama administration listened — to the corporations.
Speaking at an international corporate business summit in March, Obama announced that "My administration is going to reform the L-1B visa category, which allows corporations to temporarily move workers from a foreign office to a U.S. office in a faster, simpler way. ... [T]his could benefit hundreds of thousands of nonimmigrant workers and their employers." (Emphasis added.)
Those hundreds of thousands of "nonimmigrant workers" aren't Americans — they are foreign workers not counted as immigrants.
Guest worker visas top the wish list of the corporate interests pushing immigration reform. They are also pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. One corporate trade association says bluntly that "The TPP should remove restrictions on nationality or residency requirements for the selection of personnel."
In The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Quest for a Twenty-first Century Trade Agreement, Joel Trachtman declares that immigration is an "important frontier" in TPP, "promising great opportunities for individual migrants" and "developing country workers." It cites the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement as a precedent for TPP.
We know Canada is now negotiating a trade pact with the European Union that would allow corporations to bring in unlimited numbers of contract workers in a broad number of fields, including manufacturing and construction. The Trans-Pacific Partnership includes Canada, and the Obama administration is negotiating its own agreement with the EU, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
All these "21st-century trade agreements" are written by the same corporate interests and negotiators, and all have the same goal: more visas for foreign workers. If TPP goes into effect, they will be beyond the reach of any future Congress.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is another instance of Obama using every means he can to advance his immigration agenda, as he said he would.
Remember this: nothing Congress puts in TPA will alter what's already been negotiated over the past six years.
It would be inexcusable for Congress to give Obama TPA so he can fast-track his immigration agenda.
Ellis is executive director of the American Jobs Alliance, an independent, nonpartisan not-for-profit organization.