Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Making Immigration Policy The Worst It Can Be

Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.
- Winston Churchill

Democracy is a little like our immigration/illegal immigration system. There are at least three bad ways to go about reform:

- "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" would enable illegal immigrants to gain legal status if certain conditions, such as paying a fine and learning English, were met;

- Amnesty, which, unlike "comprehensive immigration reform," would grant illegal immigrants immediate legal status, but is a term mostly used by immigration hawks to undermine liberalization of immigration policy. For obvious political reasons, no politician (and practically no one else) has the courage to advocate actual amnesty, though it is what comprehensive reform eventually would evolve into;

- Maintaining the status quo, which clearly is not working, given that nothing has had as much effect on stemming the flow of illegal immigrants as the severe recession we're currently undergoing north of the border.

But there is one other option- and it's much worse than all the others. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.), mentioned it on the June 28 Fox News Sunday on GOP TV:

We're open to looking at immigration reform. We've tried it in the past. It's very tough. If we get the borders secure and we need -- we can go on from there and hopefully develop a guest worker program that actually works.

That's disturbing- or should be. In an article (apparently no longer available) appearing in the 4/17/06 issue, the editors of The New Republic explain

Indeed, to see the pernicious (and un-American) nature of a guest-worker program, one need only look across the Atlantic at the misery such programs have wrought in Europe. Spurred by extreme labor shortages in the 1950s, a host of European countries--including West Germany, France, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands--adopted guest-worker programs. Those nations sought temporary immigrants to address their manpower problems, because they believed the labor shortages themselves were temporary and would end once the generation born after World War II entered the workforce. They also hoped that foreign workers would fill low-status jobs while allowing citizens to enjoy better-paying positions.

But the guest-worker programs also reflected European notions of nationhood--attitudes that could not be more different than those of the United States. The guest-worker programs were a way in which these European countries could avoid becoming ethnically plural societies. Of course, those nations became ethnically heterogeneous when the guest workers did not go home. But the workers, while remaining in those European countries, never became of them. Consider Germany, for instance, where more than two million Muslims of Turkish origin--whose families came as guest workers four decades ago--live today. They live in Germany not as Germans, but in a strange sort of nationless limbo--afforded certain benefits of citizenship (such as health care) but denied the privilege of actually being citizens. Which, of course, denies them any incentive to assimilate to their new country. The prospect of such a thing happening in the United States with mexican guest workers is only too real.


At least European nations turned to guest worker programs during "extreme labor shortages." It is, therefore, curious at first glance, troubling thereafter, that McConnell would raise the spectre of a guest worker program at a period of great and growing unemployment and severe labor surplus in the U.S.A. Generally, we should learn from the Europeans and adopt, with modification, what is best in their societies- including health care- and reject what is worst. And the worst is guest worker programs. When the debate over reform of illegal immigration policy gets under way, we need to remember that as inadequate as our current policy is, and as dangerous as the euphemistic "comprehensive immigrative reform" (or dysphemistic "amnesty") would be, there is a far greater danger.

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