In the midst of the heated immigration debate, Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) deserves high praise for his willingness to show leadership to bridge the divide that has grown over the idea of a guest-worker program.
Today, Rep. Pence will announce his plan to introduce a new bill combining the important border security measures already passed by the House with a new approach for handling the guest-worker problem. The concept is based largely on a proposal by the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation to create a guest-worker program that would be administered by the private sector, rather than with huge new government bureaucracies.
Our citizens are divided almost equally between those who see immigration as a threat to our economy and culture, and those who see immigration as part of our history and a necessary component of a healthy economy. The solution is illusive because both sides are right — and in Washington both sides have to win for such a divisive issue to be resolved.
The fact is 85%-90% of people crossing our borders illegally just want to work. They have no intention of becoming American citizens, they have committed no other crime and pose no security risk. If they are moved to a simple legal path to enter as temporary guest workers, border control would be much easier and more effective.
If it becomes quick and easy to find legal workers, with harsh punishment for hiring illegals, the illegal job market will dry up. Illegal workers will then have a strong incentive to go back home and become legal, then return to work in a system that is better for them, and safer for us.
The other important aspect of the Pence plan is that guest workers are not and should not be classified as immigrants. "Immigration" is a serious, long term program where immigrants need to understand what makes our country special, learn our language, and pledge 100% allegiance to the United States. This should not be quick and easy, and temporary guest workers should have no immigrant status.
If it is easy to get legal workers fast or to get one’s current illegal workers legal, with harsh punishment for then hiring illegals, the illegal job market will dry up. The incentive will then be very strong for illegals to go outside borders and become legal, and take their families with them who can get legal status as "Family Accompanying Guest Worker."
The plan would allow private employment agencies (licensed by the government for security reasons) to open offices in Mexico and elsewhere, and empower them to issue the new guest worker "smart cards," following instant background checks of all applicants, and most importantly, linking specific workers to specific jobs for specified time periods. A credit card-type permit would include security and personal information in a magnetic stripe on the card, making employer checks and law enforcement easy and instant in any state in the country. One clear detail separates private companies from government bureaucracies: they have a profit motive to get it right. Background checks can be done instantly, as private gun dealers have demonstrated, and work permits would be issued right away because private businesses don’t get paid for bureaucratic delays.
As Rep. Pence says, government simply cannot implement such a program. The millions of illegal workers in this country all have personal history with a system that didn’t work for them. Virtually all national leaders now know that any solution must involve both border control and a new temporary worker program. But they all seem stuck on what to do with the 10-15 million illegals already in the U.S. Some plans would allow them to stay and register, but that seems like a reward for breaking our laws. It sounds like amnesty and Americans simply won’t accept it. Others would send illegals home to apply, but without changing the bureaucratic system that discouraged legal entry in the first place, it won’t work because they won’t go.
Most such workers would rather be legal, but two all-powerful incentives keep them illegal and underground: a bureaucratic system they know doesn’t work, and an artificial limit on their number. The answer to both has been in front of us all along. Let the free market work and our economy can remain strong while our nation becomes more secure. We commend Rep. Pence for showing Congress how to solve this problem.