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.