Immigration plan does only half the job

January 29, 2013

Heeding the Obama administration’s call for immigration reform, a bipartisan group of eight senators Monday released a proposal they plan to introduce as legislation. They wisely included legalization for current undocumented immigrants, but their plan will likely come up short on a guest-worker program for legal migrant workers.

While legalization is a good step, lack of a comprehensive guest-worker program only perpetuates the problem many immigration critics cite as their biggest concern: unauthorized immigration. Yet guest-worker measures have worked in this country before, so it is pure politics, rather than substance, that prevents officials from crafting one now.

Unauthorized immigrants who are not violent or criminals should indeed be legalized. They came here for economic security, and many are on their way to achieving it. So many of their offspring, the so-called “DREAMers,” who were brought here as children, know nothing but the United States and speak only English. They are Americans in all the ways that count — except a law that now says they aren’t. It’s time for the law to accept them.

Most unauthorized immigrants came from Mexico, Central America and Asia, where the benefits of moving here are incomes two to six times greater than in their homelands. The U.S. economy, struggling since the 2008 crisis, put a damper on unauthorized immigration, but gradually recovering housing and labor markets are beginning to attract people again.

That is why a robust guest-worker program is needed: to accommodate future flows of migrants. After decades of unauthorized immigration motivated by economic gain, it is fantasy to expect it to stop after legalizing those unauthorized immigrants already here. Let us not forget that President Ronald Reagan tried an amnesty in 1986 ‑ which failed because it legalized the workers here but did not provide a viable pathway for future workers to come.

What we need is a legal way for lower-skilled immigrants to enter the United States — and a guest-worker visa program is the easiest avenue.

So why doesn’t the proposed immigration reform include a comprehensive guest-worker program? Surprisingly, the main issue is not opposition from conservative Republicans. It is unions and their supporters who do not want it.

In the 2007 immigration reform push, an amendment that would have ended the guest-worker program after five years destroyed Republican support.

The then-leaders of the AFL-CIO, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers and the Teamsters all wrote letters opposing guest workers and supporting the amendment.

Teamsters President James P. Hoffa wrote that he opposed a guest-worker program because it would “[force] workers to toil in a truly temporary status with a high risk of exploitation and abuse by those seeking cheap labor.”

At least unions now support immigration restrictions for different reasons than before. Samuel Gompers, the founder of the AFL, never saw an anti-immigration bill he did not like. He supported the Chinese Exclusion Act and the near-race-based quota acts of the 1920s that drastically curtailed immigration from anywhere except Northern and Western Europe.

Gompers’ logic was simple. He thought unions can only organize when there is a limited supply of labor, especially immigrant labor. This thinking was even espoused by the likes of César Chavez, whose organizing efforts involved calling the Immigration and Naturalization Service to report unauthorized Mexican workers or forming a “wet line” (his language) on the Mexican border.

Now unions say they oppose a guest-worker visa program to protect these workers from abuse. But unauthorized workers are going to come in any case, so preventing a guest-worker program can only place them in a black market ‑ where employer abuse, backed up by the threat of deportation, is far worse.

If unions are honestly concerned about guest-worker abuse, the solution is making the visa portable and not tied to one employer. A World War I guest-worker visa let guest workers quit their jobs and be hired by approved employers. Guest workers simply had to tell the government about their new employer after they were hired — not seek permission before switching jobs.

The best labor protection is a worker’s ability to quit a job without legal sanction. If the government could create such a guest-worker visa program 100 years ago, there is no reason why it cannot be revived today.

As long as there is economic opportunity here, immigrants — legal or not — will come. An immigration bill that does not create a vehicle for legal migrants to enter the country is not real reform.

PHOTO: Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) (R) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) are part of the bipartisan group of senators who have agreed on a comprehensive immigration reform plan that they introduced in Washington January 28, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Just what part of “ILLEGAL” do these people not understand? We already have immigration laws in the United States and they need to enforced. Deport all illegal aliens, secure our border and fine anyone who hires an illegal aliens. That is the law. Giving Amnesty to a bunch of illegal aliens is wrong.

Posted by Galactus9999 | Report as abusive

Immigration is destroying the American middle class.

Nature has not yet rescinded the law of supply and demand.

The plain fact is that immigration into any modern country has two serious, lethal effects on the native-born citizens:

1. Immigration sharply drives down wage rates.
2. Immigration sharply drives up housing costs (rent rates).

Thus employers and landlords benefit from immigration.

Thus common workers are greatly harmed by immigration.

Today in America, apartment rental rates are skyrocketing. I’ve lived in the same apartment building about 8 years. When I moved in it was mostly native-born Americans.

I’ve watched it change. Today it is about 60% foreign-born people. There is now a waiting list to move in. More and more foreigners every day.

The rental rates go up, and up and up. The large company that owns it greatly benefits from immigration, and of course gives great political support for further immigration.

But the native-born Americans, working class, already in financial straits, see their rents go up and up and up. Often they go from an apartment to being homeless.

The immigrants, coming from poverty, squalor and violent crime in Latin America, end up causing the native-born American working class to fall into squalor and destitution in America.

Immigration is a giant crime against the American working class, while the wealthy reap more profits, and then attend the same country club as the senators sponsoring this bill.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

Mr. Nowrasteh: A true guest worker program would neutralize your opinion that “workers will come here anyway”. It’s the structure of the program, including enforcement, that will determine whether the program will work. Some suggestions:

A. Unskilled guest workers are “permitted” for a particular task for a particular time (say six months)or the growing season. No job mobility outside the industry sector for which they were allowed into the country. No mobility from agriculture to construction as an example. No permit is to exceed 9 months, and they have to return home and re-apply from their native country.

B. There are significant fines for employers for not adhering to the terms of the program–pay a meaningful wage, worker safety, etc. So there is no financial benefit to an employer not to hire an available American.

C. The worker has to return home after his permit expires. He thus loses his employer sponsor and at that point is “illegal” and subject to immediate deportation.

D. The worker is not eligible for any public benefits (welfare, housing allowances, medicaid, AFDC, etc.) health services must be provided by the employer during the term of the agreement.

If you remove the financial incentives for the worker (beyond the strict terms of his employment) and for the employer (with significant financial penalties for violations) then it will work.

Posted by COindependent | Report as abusive

Try the real truth from these Washington Times articles:

(1) “Fix immigration system to benefit Americans”

In his recent op-ed Alex Nowrasteh argues that we should increase our legal immigration system and grant amnesty to illegal immigrants in order to bolster our sluggish economy (“Free markets require increased legal immigration,” Wednesday).

There is a consensus among nonpartisan economists that low-skilled immigrants, both legal and illegal, are a fiscal drain on taxpayers.

Our immigration system does not always put American interests first; in fact, we select just 5 percent of our immigrants based on the skills and education they bring to the United States.

We should change our immigration system to bring in more skilled labor to help improve our economy. But because immigrants admitted to the United States today are generally lower-skilled than American workers, they compete with low-skilled natives for scarce jobs and drive down wages.

A Harvard economist has estimated that immigration in recent decades has reduced the wages of native-born workers without a high school degree by nearly 9 percent.

These vulnerable American workers have been especially hard hit by the ongoing recession. The unemployment rate for those with less than a high school diploma is more than 12 percent, about 4 percent higher than the national rate.

Low-skilled immigrants without a high school education very often pay little in taxes but receive huge amounts of taxpayer-funded benefits.

In fact, the Heritage Foundation found that the average household headed by an immigrant without a high school degree receives more than $19,000 more in total government benefits each year than it pays in federal, state and local taxes.

And the nonpartisan National Research Council found that an illegal immigrant without a high school degree will, over the course of his lifetime, impose a net cost on taxpayers of $89,000.

Granting amnesty to illegal immigrants will only cost taxpayers more money.

Illegal immigrants already cost U.S. taxpayers billions annually and the Heritage Foundation reports that it will cost at least $2.5 trillion in retirement expenditures, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income if they are granted amnesty.

With so many of our entitlement programs on the verge of insolvency, it makes no sense to further jeopardize them.

We have the most generous immigration system in the world, admitting more than 1 million legal immigrants each year. This generosity should continue – but we must ensure our immigration system benefits American taxpayers and workers.


Texas Republican

Chairman, House Judiciary Committee

Washington  /may/25/fix-immigration-system-to-benef it-americans/


(2) “Two-thirds of jobs go to immigrants during Obama’s four years”

Two-thirds of those who have found employment under President Obama are immigrants, both legal and illegal, according to an analysis that suggests immigration has soaked up a large portion of what little job growth there has been over the past three years.

The Center for Immigration Studies is releasing the study Thursday morning, a day ahead of the final Labor Department unemployment report of the campaign season, which is expected to show a sluggish job market more than three years into the economic recovery.

That slow market, combined with the immigration numbers, could explain why Mr. Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney have struggled to find a winning jobs message in some of the country’s hardest-hit postindustrial regions.

“It’s extraordinary that most of the employment growth in the last four years has gone to the foreign-born, but what’s even more extraordinary is the issue has not even come up during a presidential election that is so focused on jobs,” said Steven A. Camarota, the center’s research director, who wrote the report along with demographer Karen Zeigler.

His numbers are stark:

Since the first quarter of 2009, the number of immigrants of working age (16 to 65) who are employed has risen 2 million, from 21.2 million to 23.2 million.

During the same time, native-born employment has risen just 1 million, to reach 119.9 million.

It’s a trend years in the making: Immigrants are working more, and native-born Americans are working less.

In 2000, 76 percent of natives aged 18 to 65 were employed, but that dropped steadily to 69 percent this September.

By contrast, immigrants started the last decade at 71 percent employment and rose to a peak of 74 percent at the height of the George W. Bush-era economic boom.  /oct/31/two-thirds-of-jobs-go-to-immigr ants/


Wonder where your job went?

To an immigrant, so the wealthy could make more money, than if they hired you instead.

Mr. Nowrasteh argues for a “free market” system, which will reward immigration, both legal and illegal at the expense of the American people.

The right economic solution is to get rid of the immigrants and restore our employment to American citizens ONLY.

Immigration is literally bleeding this country to death.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive