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In new immigration deal, a big favor for Alaska

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Congress,Byron York,Immigration,Senate,Alaska,Analysis

If you search for the word “Alaska” in the original Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform bill, you’ll get no hits. But if you do the same search in the Hoeven-Corker amendment, which is essentially a new version of the immigration bill, you’ll find “Alaska” right there in black and white.

The reason is that the Gang of Eight has used the rewritten bill to pay a big favor to the state of Alaska and its two senators, Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mark Begich. Here’s how it works:

The bill creates a new federal entity called the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research, which is described as “an independent statistical agency within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.” The head of the Bureau will be appointed by the president, with Senate confirmation. One of the things the Bureau will do is research and designate the occupations for which labor shortages exist, and therefore for which more low-wage guest workers will be allowed to enter the country.

The bill uses a system of categorizing jobs by skill level. A Zone 1 occupation, like a dishwasher or a waitress, requires no special preparation. A Zone 2 occupation, like a clerk, requires more preparation, usually including a high school degree. A Zone 3 occupation is more skilled. And so it goes through a Zone 5 occupation, like a doctor or a lawyer, that requires extensive preparation.

If a particular occupation in a particular area is designated a “shortage occupation,” then firms employing those workers will be allowed to bring in more low-wage guest workers from overseas. That is where Alaska comes in. The Hoeven-Corker amendment says the Commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research must “devise a methodology…to designate shortage occupations in zone 1 occupations, zone 2 occupations, and zone 3 occupations.” And then it adds, pretty much out of nowhere: “Such methodology must designate Alaskan seafood processing in zones 1, 2, and 3 as shortage occupations.” The next paragraph reiterates: “Alaskan seafood processing in zones 1, 2, and 3 must be designated as shortage occupations.”

No other state receives such special treatment. Just Alaska, in what appears to be a favor to a powerful fisheries industry looking for low-cost labor. Why did Alaska merit such special consideration? The bill doesn’t say. But Sen. Murkowski has been an early non-Gang supporter of the immigration reform effort, and Sen. Begich is an endangered Democrat up for re-election in 2014 who needs to show Alaska voters that he is delivering for them. The new and improved comprehensive immigration reform bill — which the Senate will vote on Monday — delivers for both lawmakers.

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Byron York

Chief Political Correspondent
The Washington Examiner