For the president of the United States to be talking about creating a new “guest worker” bureaucracy to import more foreign workers is a little like a flood victim, still stranded atop his house, making plans to install a new sprinkler system. I’m saying it doesn’t make sense.
Right now there are at least 10 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Every one of them is the equivalent of a guest worker with an expired visa the day they set foot in America. If we cannot locate, arrest, detain and deport these uninvited guests, what makes anyone believe we will be able to do better with our invited guests, who would be given a free pass across the border and a three year head start?
That is why so many people oppose the president’s not-an-amnesty amnesty, the so-called guest worker program that would pair willing foreign workers with American employers unwilling to pay market wages. Uh, I mean pair willing workers with willing employers, who for some reason can’t get Americans to work for Peruvian hacienda wages. No that’s not right either. Well, the important thing is the Chamber of Commerce is in favor of the plan.
President Bush has more than once disingenuously implied that opponents of his guest worker plans are somehow against immigrants or fail to recognize the role that immigration plays in our economy. In point of fact, what people are against is having no control over immigration. That is what we have today. President Bush could issue 3 million guest worker visas or he could issue three, and it would make no difference. Until we have the means to enforce whatever limits we set, they will just be meaningless numbers in a press release. People will come, go and stay as they please. Visas be damned.
The Bush administration would have us believe that the proposed guest worker program would be instituted simultaneously with increased immigration enforcement. Indeed it is sold as part of the solution to illegal immigration, being one half of a carrot-and-stick approach to push the underground economy into the light of day. The only problem is that we’ve fallen for that one before.
The 1986 amnesty was supposed to be paired with employer penalties and other enforcement measures that were to take away the motivation for hiring illegal labor. The government issued the amnesty carrots just fine (in fact, millions more carrots than people expected), but then it somehow forgot to use the stick. Today, the underground economy is larger, our borders are more chaotic, and our immigration enforcement system is more impotent than before we bought this plan to “end” illegal immigration by making many of the illicit immigrants legal.
Since then, we have been promised many times that enforcement was just around the corner. But the situation has grown steadily worse, as more and more would-be illegal entrants have come to understand that our government is not serious about stopping, catching, deporting or punishing them.
In short, most people no longer trust our government to do what it says on immigration matters. And they are sick of being in the absurd position of having to negotiate this matter with their own elected government, which refuses to enforce the laws we have until it gets the laws it wants.
Any measure to reform our immigration system is pointless until we reform our immigration enforcement system. So please, Mr. President, give us our stick up front this time, and then we can talk about carrots. Let’s get control of the situation and show that we can enforce the laws we have before we begin fantasizing about new laws.
It is not a lack of visas or permissiveness that has caused us to lose control of borders. It is a lack of enforcement. The president is ultimately the chief law enforcement official in the United States. He should not be using continued neglect of his duties as a bargaining tactic while he holds up tougher enforcement measures in Congress.
In the unlikely event that the new enforcement measures work so well that they begin to decrease the supply of truly necessary unskilled labor, that can be dealt with quickly and easily when it occurs. There is always a consensus in Congress to increase immigration. And besides, the carrot works best if you use the stick to get people’s attention first.