Trump’s Labor Secretary Pick Is Immigration Supporter

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By Laura D. Francis

Dec. 8 — President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for labor secretary, CKE Restaurants Inc. Chief Executive Officer Andrew Puzder, seems to have a somewhat softer tone on immigration than the man who tapped him for the job.

Puzder has been “pretty prolific” in his writing on immigration and other issues, Kevin Miner of Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 8. Puzder, whose parent company owns Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., has written numerous blog posts and op-ed pieces expressing his support for an overhaul of the immigration system.

That includes advocacy for legal status for undocumented immigrants currently in the country, a stark contrast to Trump’s calls for mass deportation.

Deporting all undocumented immigrants “will never happen,” Puzder said in a September 2013 opinion piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune. He also acknowledged that undocumented immigrants have been coming to the U.S. in search of jobs and said it “makes sense” to allow them to do so legally after 30 years of failing to enforce the law.

Puzder also couched his views in political terms: If Republicans don’t put the immigration debate to bed, Democrats will.

‘Open Approach’ to Immigration?

The fast-food CEO’s writings give “some indication” of “an open approach” to immigration, Miner said. In that regard, it’s likely there wouldn’t be a “tightening of the labor certification process,” he said. In most cases, labor certification through the DOL is the first step employers must undertake to hire foreign workers. It’s intended to make sure foreign worker employment won’t displace or harm the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.

It’s also possible that Puzder’s pro-business immigration views could mean an overhaul of the permanent labor certification program could still happen. A proposal from the Obama administration on the program for employers that want to sponsor immigrants for green cards hasn’t emerged from the White House Office of Management and Budget since it went there for review in March.

The proposed rule was seen as a reworking of the recruitment process employers must undertake before they can sponsor someone for a green card. But there may have been “something bigger” in the proposal that’s caused the review process to stall for so long, Miner said.

Still, “I don’t know that the secretary of labor gets quite that in the weeds with what we deal with,” Miner said. Trump likely was looking at Puzder’s other views in making the selection, such as his opposition to raising the minimum wage and the Obama administration’s overtime rule, he said.

That means whatever Puzder’s thoughts on immigration, it’s not likely a signal of a “significant shift” away from Trump’s immigration policy positions, Miner said.

About Those DOL Investigations

But what about enforcement? Trump’s first post-election immigration policy statement was his plan for the DOL to investigate cases of visa abuse.

In that area, “nothing’s going to get done,” Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 8.

The fast-food industry is “one of the biggest violators” of wage and hour laws, and it’s “hard to believe that he’s going to crack down on his friends and the people in his own industry,” Costa said. There are also “a lot of worker abuses” in the restaurant and hospitality industries, which are heavy users of the H-2B seasonal guestworker program for low-skilled, nonagricultural workers, he said.

And “who knows what the Department of Labor is going to look like” in terms of funding, Costa said. Even if Puzder’s DOL issues regulations covering guestworker programs, they could have “little practical impact” if the department is too understaffed to implement them, he said.

On the other hand, Miner said Puzder appears to have a “significant enforcement bent.” Still, he could influence how Trump’s call for visa program abuse investigations are carried out, Miner said.

Republican Party Battle Ahead

There’s going to be a “battle between the business wing of the Republican Party and the anti-immigration wing of the Republican Party,” even within Trump’s own administration, Costa said.

Puzder, coming from the business side, likely disfavors additional regulation of employers using guestworker programs. But Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Trump’s pick for attorney general, has recognized abuses within the H-2B program and wants to make sure the foreign workers aren’t being hired as a source of cheap labor.

In that regard, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for lower immigration levels, Dec. 8 raised questions about Puzder’s views on immigration and how they might affect U.S. workers.

“Puzder has served as an executive of a fast food conglomerate—an industry that has thrived on low-wage labor, illegal workers, and which has lobbied for greater access to foreign guest workers to maximize corporate profits,” FAIR President Dan Stein said in a statement. “The American people need to be reassured that the incoming Labor Secretary will not prioritize the interests of cheap labor employers over the interests of those same American workers,” he said.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies—which also supports lower immigration levels—Dec. 8 called Puzder “perhaps the worst person imaginable” for the DOL. “For the most important job that involves protecting American workers, Trump has opted for someone who thinks there are jobs Americans won’t do,” he said in a National Review opinion piece.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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