DHS John Kelly Rejects H-2B Program, Reveals Drug, Refugee Priorities

“I know we already have large numbers [of contract workers] that come in and have been coming in over the years, but … in the current administration, this is all about American jobs versus people that come in and do the work,” Kelly told Sen. Heidi Heitkamp from Dakota. 

Heitkamp had asked Kelly to accelerate the approval of H-2B contact-workers sought by employers in North Dakota, even though millions of Americans are either unemployed or have fallen out of the low-wage workforce. 

Each year, the government allows companies to import roughly 100,000 H-2B workers for blue-collar jobs, such as landscaping and resorts, along with roughly 900,000 H-1B, H-2A, J-1, OPT and other contract workers for a myriad professional and blue-collar jobs. The program is unpopular among voters because it reduces wages for seasonal and full-year employees, but is being pushed by the GOP congressional leadership and their donors. The May budget deal asks Kelly to authorize an extra 70,000 H-2B visas, but Kelly is signaling his reluctance to import the foreign workers. 

Each year, 4 million young Americans join the workforce, but the federal government imports 1 million legal immigrants and roughly 1 million contract workers, so forcing down average wages and boosting overall consumption

In response to Kelly, Heitkamp asked for visas to import foreign doctors for North Dakota towns. Nationwide, there’s a shortage of doctors outside the main cities partly because the federal government constricts the number of training slots for students at American hospitals. “It’s extraordinarily difficult to recruit physicians to my state,” she said. Many foreign doctors use the J-1 Visa to gain residency in the United States, sharply reducing the number of doctors in their homelands. 

Kelly’s pro-American statement was only one of the several dramatic moments at a Tuesday hearing before the Senate committee on homeland defense. 

On Haitian refugees, Kelly suggested he would cancel residency permits for 50,000 Haitians and perhaps 250,000 other foreigners living with “Temporary Protected Status” in the United States after the fled various manmade and natural disasters in their homelands. Kelly told Republican Sen. Jame Lankford, from Oklahoma: 

Some of the Central Americans have been on status over 20 years, and they were put on status because of a hurricane that happened over 20 years ago. I can tell you that things are going better in Central America, much, much better over the last 20 years, in many ways better. But, no one’s ever looked at it [whether that status should end]. And I think that’s something — we have to do that. It’s the law.

Crucially, Kelly also argued that the return of U.S.-based Haitians would be a huge gain for their poor homeland. 

I was down in Haiti last week, spoke with the leadership. I said, “During the six months, you, Haiti, need to start thinking about travel documents and how you’re going to bring these people,” who, by the way, are generally better educated, entrepreneurial, would be, I think, a boost to the Haitian economy in social function… 

“But at the end of it, the word is ‘temporary’ …. unless you change that to ‘permanent,’” he told Lankford. 

Kelly also pushed for a national solution to the expanding problem of drug addiction, noting that he can only interdict the flow of drugs demanded by Americans. “If we don’t reduce the drug demand in the United States for heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, this is all a complete waste of time,” he told Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper. 

The bad news for Mexico and the southwest border is, largely because of our drug demand, an incredibly efficient network has developed that stretches, frankly, from around the world, goes through the Western Hemisphere, Caribbean, up the Central American isthmus, Mexico, into the United States…

But you know sir, senator, it really is all about demand reduction. We will always have addicts. Studies tell you that you know, there’s — any population, ours included, there’s certain people predisposed to being addicted to something. But an awful lot of these people, from my personal experience as a kid, an awful lot of people start doing drugs because its cool, there’s no argument against it, and suddenly they’re — they’re hooked on something, fill in the blanks, and they can’t get away from it.

We …. have talked about this issue of how we have managed to convince people over the years, seatbelts, smoking, a lot of different things. You never get to zero, but we could do a lot better.

The president has — has got DHS, State, HHS in the lead, ONDCP [Office of National Drug Control Policy]. So if we could get a comprehensive drug demand strategy put together that just — it’s not law enforcement, it’s Hollywood, it’s professional sports, college sports, the president of the United States, the Senate, everyone out there, the influencers, we can solve this problem. Or reduce this problem significantly … it’s a holistic thing and it’s not just a CBP guy on the border.

He told GOP Sen. Steve Daines from Montana that restrictions on precursor drugs are a primary strategy:

We’ve got to take a much more holistic approach to this [drug problem], demand reduction, rehabilitation. Certainly law enforcement plays a role in the homeland. The southwest border plays a role.

Our partnership with Mexico — and here I think it gets more and more important. Our partnership with Mexico, to use the example of heroin and meth as you — as you say. They’re cooperative with us. Just recently, within the last 60 days, they destroyed two massive methamphetamine labs.

… the United States Congress passed legislation, I don’t know, 10 years ago, something like that, and restricted the — the precursor chemicals, the availability of the precursor chemicals to make meth … and the cartels, as they have become more and more successful and sophisticated said … “The United States wants to try to kill themselves with methamphetamine, heck, we can do it for them.”

… Congressional action in terms of restricting the precursors … that’s — that’s primarily, in my view, the solution to the problem.

Read more about the H-2B outsourcing program here