Policy: Labor

Labor Department's shift on visa fraud smells of immigration politics

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Columnists,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Immigration,Labor,Analysis,Thomas Perez

On Oct. 30, the outsourcing company Infosys agreed to pay $34 million to settle claims by federal prosecutors that it engaged in widespread abuse of the government's high-tech foreign worker visa program. It was the largest such settlement in history.

Infosys systematically submitted false information to federal authorities and consular officials, according to reports. It even provided the workers with “dos and don'ts” lists to help mislead immigration officials. (Infosys admitted no wrongdoing.)

You might think that that would be proof to the federal government that investigating fraud should be a major concern. In fact, the opposite is happening.

Last Wednesday, the Labor Department's Office of the Inspector General announced that it was deleting foreign worker visa fraud from its annual list of “top management concerns.”

A spokesman for the office told the Washington Examiner that they would still monitor the fraud and report on it to Congress. Nevertheless, officials decided that the fraud just did not pose the “greatest threat to the department's mission” anymore. So they dropped it from the annual report.

It was a curious announcement in light of the Infosys settlement and the previous year’s “top management concerns” reports from the inspector general’s office.

In that report, the office said that “[I]nvestigations continue to uncover schemes carried out by immigration attorneys, labor brokers, and transnational organized crime groups.”

This year’s announcement that visa fraud had been deleted was done with a minimum of fanfare. I only learned about it by reading a brief note on the very last page of a Labor Department report.

So how did visa fraud suddenly no longer become a “top management concern” for the Labor Department? The spokesman I talked to said it was a just a change the inspectors decided on while writing up the report.

It is noteworthy, though, that the 2013 report is the first one since Thomas Perez took over as labor secretary in July. Perez is a former top civil rights enforcer with the Justice Department and a staunch advocate of more open immigration.

In a November op-ed for the Spanish-language cable channel Univision, Perez called for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He criticized current policy, stating: “We encourage the best and brightest students to come study in the U.S. - young people with great promise in science, technology, engineering and more - yet our laws discourage them from staying, starting a business and contributing to American prosperity.” (Emphasis in original.)

In a speech the same month to the National Immigrant Integration Conference in Miami, Perez said: “The president and his cabinet members remain unfailingly committed to this issue. And you remain unfailingly committed to this issue. … This is the first order of business for President Obama.”

Perez himself has never been a big fan of immigration enforcement. As a member of the Montgomery County (Md.) Council in 2004, he co-sponsored a resolution opposing congressional legislation requiring county police to assist in enforcing federal immigration laws. Lawmakers pushed the law -- which never made it out of committee -- in response to an initiative by President George W. Bush to give illegal immigrants three-year work permits.

Of course, conceding now that there is serious fraud in the visa program would not be very helpful to any effort to pass comprehensive reform. Doing so would steel the resolve of conservative critics, worry moderate Democrats and upset unions who fought to limit the programs before they would jointly endorse a deal with the Chamber of Commerce.

Indeed, when news of the Office of the Inspector General's policy shift broke last week, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, a union long critical of the visa program, condemned it and called on Perez to denounce the change. He hasn't responded.

Then again, why would Perez? It’s not a top management concern.

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