Rupert Murdoch's delusion: It's not labor's fault that immigration reform is dying

The pro-immigration Republican billionaire writes that unions are behind the CIR "stalemate." That's plain wrong

Published June 19, 2014 3:47PM (EDT)

Rupert Murdoch                (Reuters/Jason Reed)
Rupert Murdoch (Reuters/Jason Reed)

Conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch has taken to the pages of one of his papers, the Wall Street Journal, to plead -- nay, beg -- for comprehensive immigration reform. Even though Murdoch occupies a uniquely powerful position in Republican politics, though, we're going to guess that his advocacy won't work now, just as it hasn't worked throughout the year-plus-long push. But hey, a feisty billionaire's gotta try, right?

The main reason CIR now really isn't likely to go forward, as Murdoch notes, is the primary defeat of House majority leader Eric Cantor. The legislative prospects for CIR were already mostly dead before Cantor's loss, but afterward, they're dead and buried. "Like others who want comprehensive immigration reform," Murdoch writes, "I worried that Mr. Cantor's loss would be misconstrued and make Congress reluctant to tackle this urgent need. That would be the wrong lesson and an undesirable national consequence of this single, local election result." He's right! That would be both the wrong lesson, as well as exactly what's going to happen. As Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Renee Ellmers have shown, if you run a smart campaign, you can be both pro-CIR and withstand a primary challenge. But all it takes is one big upset to scare the crap out of everyone and freeze legislative action for years, so here we are.

Murdoch is savvy enough to know that there isn't enough pressure he personally can apply to help push CIR through. And since he's a Republican more than he's an immigration reform advocate, he's also trying to push the blame to Democrats' doorstep for when the effort is officially dropped. And so, surrounding all the happy and ineffectual talk about how immigrants make America great!, he tosses in this bold claim (emphasis ours):

Next, we need to do away with the cap on H-1B visas, which is arbitrary and results in U.S. companies struggling to find the high-skill workers they need to continue growing. We already know that most of the applications for these visas are for computer programmers and engineers, where there is a shortage of qualified American candidates. But we are held back by the objections of the richly funded labor unions that mistakenly believe that if we keep innovation out of America, somehow nothing will change. They are wrong, and frankly as much to blame for our stalemate on this issue as nativists who scream about amnesty.

Alas, this is just wrong. While the AFL-CIO was (reasonably) peeved with a deal to increase the cap on H-1B visas during the Senate markup last year, labor has been one of the most tireless advocates for comprehensive immigration reform out there.

It wasn't always this way. Up to and through the 2007 immigration reform push, labor was, at best, split on immigration reform. Had Murdoch been writing about the 2007 effort, he may have had the point that labor was getting in the way -- although their opposition was still not on par with that of the "nativists who scream about amnesty."

Since the beginning of the immigration overhaul early last year, the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO -- two very different organizations -- have been working together to help push this sucker through. They first issued a joint statement of principles last February. After some difficult negotiations, the two struck a deal in late March on lower-skilled guest-worker programs and wage levels.

The AFL-CIO has been mobilizing voters and activists to help push CIR through ever since. It won't scuttle the deal over H1-B provisions; but it does demand that a path to citizenship be included in a final provision -- just as President Obama does.

Hey, we get it: Murdoch doesn't want to outright say that House Republicans are the only reason CIR is in a "stalemate." That would look bad for Republicans. But it's the truth. Ever since the Gang of Eight bill passed last year, all Speaker John Boehner had to do was bring it to the floor of the House for a vote. Most or all Democratic members would have voted yes, a handful of Republicans would have joined them, and it would have passed. But Boehner won't do that largely because of the "nativists who scream about amnesty." It is what it is.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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