Guest Workers, Yes. Amnesty, No!

There are several “Guest Worker” proposals being floated around Washington these days as a solution to our immigration crisis—or more accurately, our illegal immigration boondoggle. The proposals I have seen will do nothing to solve the problem of illegal immigration. In fact, they are thinly-disguised proposals for granting legal status to the millions of illegal aliens already inside our country. In other words, they are really amnesty programs. A bill recently introduced in the Congress would allow illegal aliens already in the U.S. to earn the right to legal residency by working for three years. This is a very bad idea because it rewards people who have broken the law and only encourages more illegal immigration. Nothing could be more damaging to our nation than this “amnesty on the installment plan.” Illegal immigration is one of the most pressing public policy issues facing the United States. We now have nine to 13 million persons residing illegally in the U.S. These people arrived without background checks and in violation of well established legal processes for entering our country. Entering this nation illegally makes a mockery of the millions of legal immigrants who followed the proper procedures and waited their turn. As a member of the House International Relations Committee and chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, I am frequently given a firsthand look at the numerous failures in our immigration system. For years, I have called on my colleagues in Congress to address these problems. Yet, even in the wake of previously unimaginable terror attacks, progress has been slow towards properly screening legal immigrants and curtailing the flow of illegal aliens. Guest Workers v Amnesty An overwhelming number of Americans continue to call for enforcement of our immigration laws. In fact, a recent Zogby poll found that nearly three-fifths of Americans think we should admit fewer immigrants each year, and two-thirds believe that foreigners residing illegally in the U.S. should not be allowed to stay. In other words, a large majority of Americans want less immigration and an end to illegal immigration. Yet despite this clear sentiment across our nation, some lawmakers and a flock of interest groups are now calling for a “guest worker program” that is in reality a disguised amnesty program for illegal aliens already in this country. I think it is a good time to spell out the basic elements of a sensible and honest guest worker program so that we can make some important distinctions and avoid another public policy catastrophe. Unfortunately, history teaches us that guest worker programs have failed wherever and whenever they have been tried. The indicators of failure are that some migrants settled, illegal migrants accompanied legal migrants and the programs lasted longer and got larger than anticipated. Because of this history, any proposed guestworker program must advance cautiously towards a workable program. An honest and workable guest worker program must protect America’s national interests and solves the illegal immigration question. A program that only encourages more illegal immigration is not a solution, it is only adding to the problem. Basic Principles If a guest worker program is deemed necessary to meet specific, demonstrated, temporary labor shortages in the U.S., it must follow three principles:

  • First, it must cause no harm to American workers, both citizens and legal permanent residents. Specifically, guest workers would be allowed to fill only jobs for which there are no Americans or permanent legal residents immediately available, and only for as long as needed.
  • Second, it must bring no competitive unfairness to businesses not using the program.
  • Finally, it must not diminish America’s homeland security.
  • A program that encourages millions of additional people to come to the United States illegally does not meet this basic test. That’s why I oppose any amnesty proposal disguised as a guest worker program. Essential Safeguards An honest and workable guest worker program must contain some essential safeguards:

  • To lay a foundation, incentives must be included in the program for guest workers to return home, as it is vital to prevent the program from becoming a conduit for illegal stay in the United States. Work must be for periods of not over two years and family members should not accompany the worker.
  • Participation in the program would not earn the worker a green card and future legal status will be denied for any participant who overstays the maximum two-year guest worker term.
  • Employer sanctions for violating the law must be enforced. Participating employers and their surrogates must be barred from the program and penalized if they hire unauthorized aliens.
  • Employers must be required to advise the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement whenever a guest worker has left their employment so that a record will be established of both worker and employer compliance with the program.
  • Before a guest worker program can be enacted, however, certain criteria must be met to ensure success:
  • We have to be able to fully track guest workers, especially if they violate the terms of their visas.
  • We need fully integrated data-sharing among federal agencies of all data on non-citizens.
  • We also need a mandatory, nationwide worksite verification system that requires employers to verify with Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security that every employee is authorized to work in the United States. This system must be able to identify guest workers at jobs other than the one for which they are authorized. Protections for American Workers American citizens and legal permanent residents should not have to compete for jobs with illegal aliens who will often work for a lower wage and few if any benefits or Workman’s Compensation protections. If it is true that illegal aliens are “taking only jobs that no one else wants,” as we hear so often, no one should object to specific safeguards that protect American workers. A true guest worker program must include the following features:
  • No job may be filled with a guest worker unless it has been placed in a national Internet job bank for a specified and reasonable period. The posting period and process needs to be as easy as possible to enable employers to move quickly to hire guest workers if they can’t find an American or legal permanent resident.
  • Most employer advocates have stated that they would prefer to hire American workers, but the country has lacked the infrastructure to put employers and workers together quickly. Using the technology of the Internet can give us that universal advertising and matching system.

  • Foreign workers desiring to be considered for guest worker jobs will need to apply for the program and place themselves into a qualified pool. Guest workers will fill-temporary employment needs not met by American workers.
  • Salaries, wages and benefits offered to guest workers must be the same as offered to American workers. There must be stiff penalties for hiring workers “off the books” or violating health and safety laws.
  • Family members of guest workers will remain at home, in the country of origin. This is crucial to prevent American taxpayers from subsidizing the guest worker program by providing services to accompanying family members.
  • A portion of the guest worker’s wages, perhaps 10%, will be withheld and placed in trust and paid (with interest) when the Guest Worker returns to his country of origin.
  • Any program that offers legal status to people who came here illegally is by definition an amnesty program. Congress should not lie to the American people by calling such a proposal a guest worker program. Our recent history shows clearly that an amnesty program for illegal aliens in the country only encourages another wave of new illegal immigrants. We must at all costs avoid making this mistake again. Border Security Any new guest worker program, no matter how carefully written or well administered, will not by itself solve the problem of illegal entry across our open borders. Why should people go through the legal processes for employment if the border remains open and porous? It is only common sense that we must combine a guest worker program with a program to secure our borders. What will it take to have secure borders? A few key elements of this enhanced border security program are:

  • There should be a sense of the Congress resolution that the President should deploy adequate U.S. military troops on the border until sufficient Border Patrol agents can be trained and put into place. This may be a period of three or four years, but we need not have military forces on our borders forever.
  • We need to increase the number of Border Patrol agents to 20,000 by FY 2008 along with adequate support personnel and equipment.
  • Increase by 2,000 the number of full-time detention and removal officers by FY 2006, and provide adequate funding for detention facilities.
  • We need a fully functioning entry-exit system based on biometric identifiers for all non-citizens. This system will flag all immigration violators, including guest workers acting outside the terms of their visas. This is the only way to be sure that guest workers have left when they are supposed to and that we can track them if they attempt to disappear inside our economy.
  • Make overstaying a visa by more than 30 days a felony punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and one year in prison.
  • Double the civil and criminal penalties for immigration benefits fraud and false claims of citizenship.
  • Set a minimum 10-year prison term for convicted felons who return to the U.S. after being deported.
  • Suspend the visa waiver program until (1) the automated entry-exit system is fully implemented and functional; (2) all ports of entry have functional biometric machine readers; and (3) all participating countries issue their nationals machine-readable biometric passports (as required under Section 303 of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act). Taken as a whole, a sensible guest worker program combined with effective controls at our borders will put an end to the immigration crisis. We cannot expect foreigners to take our borders seriously if we do not begin to do so ourselves. While this is by no means a complete list of provisions for an honest and workable guest worker program, it demonstrates a sensible starting point. The security of our nation and the quality of life of our citizens depend on a thoughtful, thorough process leading to a workable guest worker program.