Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Danger In Immigration Legislation

There are two problems with- wait for the euphemism- "comprehensive immigration reform." One is the substance. The other is the slippery slope it provides.

For today, the slippery slope.

The head of the House of Representatives' Progressive Policy Caucus, Raul Grijalva, has introduced a bill which the says would

would allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country while they apply to become legal residents or citizens. They would have to pay a $500 fine and show they've made a contribution to the country through work, education, military or community service....

The legislation also would repeal the 287(g) program, which enlists local police and sheriff's deputies to enforce federal immigration law. The bill says only the federal government has the authority to enforce those laws.

It also includes a provision that would allow states to offer in-state school tuition to students who aren't citizens and whose parents may be in the country illegally.

The bill acknowledges that strong border security is needed, but it also calls for increased oversight of border control agents to ensure civil liberties are protected.

(Additionally, the Phoenix Business Journal reports "In addition to the $500 fine, the proposed bill would allow some deported illegal immigrants to apply for legal status and would lift immigration rules for those charged only with using fake Social Security numbers." This, however, is sufficiently bizarre that confirmation is required before comment.)

The Obama administration supports a rival, more moderate proposal submitted by Senator Chuck Schumer (D.- N.Y.). A danger lurks, however, in the comment of Representative Flake (R.- AZ.) who, The Californian notes, has worked in the past with Representative Grijalva on immigration reform. Flake says Grijalva's bill

repeats the mistakes of the '86 reform — massive legalization without a temporary-worker program to accommodate future labor demands.

Flake is talking about a guest-worker program or, as he puts it "a temporary-worker program," because (sarcasm alert) what this economy really lacks are unemployed and under employed workers looking for employment.

It's an old Republican or, more fairly, conservative, idea. These advocates generally are hard-core free-market cheerleaders who understand all too well the concept of supply and demand. They know there are too few jobs for Americans looking for work.

The reference to "future labor demands" is a shibboleth- this country increasingly has more individuals in the labor market and too few jobs to allow them a living wage. This will not end any time soon- and possibly never. The intent is clear- get more workers from abroad, have them compete with Americans and legal immigrants (and anyone else here) for a job, and sit back as downward pressure on wages- and benefits- results. And a plus- "temporary," or guest, workers will be here as long as they are employed- giving the employer- responsible or not- huge power over the lives of the immigrant worker. Blackmail, anyone?

There is an additional danger. This nation has an unfortunate tradition of division, obviously, between races and, to a lesser extent, gender. In the past, a gap predicated on religion and ethinicity also was a defining characteristic of society. Now, there is a growing gulf between the affluent and the poor, between the rich and the middle class, the "two Americas" presidential candidate John Edwards emphasized. A guest/temporary worker program would create similar division, as explained in an article (no longer available) entitled "That's Hospitality" from the 4/17/06 edition of The New Republic. Commenting on a proposal of then-President George W. Bush, TNR editors understood

The problem with Bush's plan lies in the term--and the concept of--"guest workers," because there is little that is more antithetical to the American ideal than a guest worker. While there are dangers in romanticizing this country's immigrant heritage, it is an unmistakable part of the national ethos. For generations, immigrants have come to the United States in search of a better life. In the process, they often remake themselves--as Americans. Even those who are here illegally, and whom we call illegal immigrants, can transcend that identity--or at least see their children who are born here transcend it.

But a guest worker and his family have no such opportunity for transcendence. They are slotted into a caste, with no real hope of ever rising above it. Indeed, Bush's guest-worker program would codify a large group of people in the United States as second-class citizens. Although they would enjoy many of the same legal protections as American-born workers, they would never be viewed by Americans as equals. Instead, they would be seen as transient figures here only to make a buck. They would not be immigrants or future Americans. They would merely be janitors, construction workers, and housekeepers.

In the 1950, the editors continued, several European nations adopted guest-worker programs in part to

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.

Creating a (another euphemism) "path to citizenship" (which TNR supported) carries with it advantages and disadvantages for American society. But there is no advantage which could compensate for the risk of adoption of a temporary-worker program, the dream of the corporate conservatives who support legalization of illegal immigrants.

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