After years of delay and resistance from members of his own party, President Bush has again indicated he will press forward with his controversial guest-worker plan, which conservatives argue is tantamount to an amnesty program.
Three competing bills in Congress include guest-worker plans. Bush’s ideas are reflected most closely in legislation drafted by Senators John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.), which conservatives adamantly oppose. A slightly better but still troublesome bill introduced by Senators John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) and Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) was put forth as an alternative to attract Republican votes.
Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R.-Colo.), chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, has introduced his own legislation—the REAL GUEST Act (HR 3333)—which puts border security and enforcement ahead of a guest-worker program. Tancredo’s legislation and his outspokenness on the issue have put him at odds with the White House and big-business Republicans who want access to cheap, foreign labor.
HUMAN EVENTS editors Terence Jeffrey, Robert Bluey and John Gizzi spoke to Tancredo this week about his bill and the simmering debate over illegal immigration.
White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove has reportedly been briefing members of Congress to describe the guest-worker program that President Bush hopes to enact. Considering you’re chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, has the White House invited you to a session to describe the plan?
REP. TOM TANCREDO (R.-COLO.): No. We have not heard from the President, we have not heard from Karl Rove, and we probably won’t. The fact is, much of this is being set up in conjunction with a business group that’s being put together, which was described in a [July 24, 2005] Los Angeles Times article. It’s a $250,000 buy-in by big companies and $50,000 buy-in by small companies for the purpose of marginalizing Tom Tancredo. By the way, it’s run by [former Republican National Chairman] Ed Gillespie, [former House Majority Leader] Dick Armey and [Bush-Cheney 2004 spokesman] Terry Holt. Dick Armey actually said in the article that the group was formed to marginalize Tom Tancredo.
Are the people behind it—at least on a financial basis—those who would have an interest in hiring foreign laborers to come into the United States to work for sub-standard wages?
TANCREDO: Two companies were mentioned. One was Microsoft and the other was Wal-Mart.
As mentioned, you’re chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus. How many members belong to that group?
TANCREDO: No. We have two Democrats. Congressman [Gene] Taylor [D.-Miss.] dropped off when I voted against sending the $50 billion down his way for Hurricane Katrina.
Do members of that caucus uniformly oppose a guest-worker program that would amount to an amnesty?
TANCREDO: I would say 90% of them do. There are members of the caucus who use the caucus for cover. You can’t really count on them. But they want to be in it so they can say, at the right time to the right group, I’m in the caucus. In terms of their actual voting records, it gets pretty spotty.
In some of the President’s major domestic initiatives in the past, including the No Child Left Behind Act and the Medicare prescription drug plan, the basic political dynamic of it was that conservatives defected and the House leadership had to put together a coalition of establishment Republicans and Democrats. Do you think that’s where this is going?
TANCREDO: I do. I think that’s exactly what could happen. The speaker [Dennis Hastert, R.-Ill.] keeps saying he is opposed to putting through any immigration plan that does not have the support of the Republican caucus. But the definition changes over time by what he means by support of the Republican caucus. As he gets closer and closer to the time the President wants something done, we may find 50 Republicans will be enough. The Democrats can be in the driver’s seat on this issue. Congressman [Howard] Berman [D.-Calif.] has been to the White House several times.
Do you believe, at this moment, the Republican leadership has signed off on the President’s plan?
TANCREDO: No, I don’t. I think, first of all, as has been the case in the past, the President will put these things forward, but only conceptually. We don’t see anything. He’s done this twice in the past, and this may be the third time. One time, I read somewhere, a member who went to the White House described the President as [describing a plan] mimicking the McCain-Kennedy bill, and adding to it the length of time that people can be employed without having to return.
Under McCain-Kennedy, illegal aliens who are in the country would not have to go home first in order to get a guest-worker pass. The bill that’s being put together by Senators John Cornyn [R.-Tex.] and Jon Kyl [R.-Ariz.] says they would have to go home. From that standpoint, the only bill out there that resembles the President’s plan is McCain-Kennedy.
TANCREDO: That’s correct. However, even Cornyn-Kyl allows them to stay for five years. I don’t think there is a bill out there that doesn’t provide some sort of amnesty. Amnesty is telling somebody here illegally they can stay—a day, a week, a month, whatever. When you say that, you have taken away any sort of stigma for coming here illegally. You have, in fact, provided amnesty. And that is horrible public policy.
One question that’s not being dealt with much in the establishment press is that, as the President envisions it, you would have these foreign workers here for six years, and they would be the lowest-paid workers in the country, because, according to the President’s definition of what a “guest worker” would be, they would be paid at a rate so low no American would accept it. It seems reasonable to assume that people paid at this low level would be very unlikely to owe any income taxes and also would be very unlikely to own property, so they wouldn’t pay property taxes either. So, who is going to pay for their health care and the public education of their children?
TANCREDO: It’s certainly not going to be the government of Mexico. This is the question we wrestle with all the time about immigration in general. Massive immigration, legal and illegal, has a lot of costs associated with it. You concentrate on workers coming into this country, through either door, who are low-skilled, low-wage workers. It costs the United States a lot of money to educate their children, to provide health care to all of the people who walk into emergency rooms, and then there are costs of incarceration.
You have an immigration reform plan, too. What does it do?
TANCREDO: My bill, HR 3333, does three things. It establishes the correct priority for any immigration reform plan. First, you secure the border. Secondly, you go after employers who are violating the law by hiring people who are here illegally. And then, and only then, after you’ve accomplished these two things—and we will recognize accomplishment by criteria we put into the bill—you provide for a guest-worker plan with no amnesty, whatsoever.
My firm belief is that if you do both of those things to secure the border, you won’t have much of an illegal immigrant problem. They will go home. No job, no social service benefits. What do you do here? You go home. Now, some won’t, and they will have to be deported because that’s the law. If we do that, then we can begin to think about bringing people in here for the purpose of doing the jobs no Americans want to do.