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Countless news stories talk about a possible immigration reform bill, but for some very odd reason -- particularly on the left - - no one talks about what is really being debated: whether we implement the long sought Republican goal of a "guest worker" program and, specifically, whether a "guest worker" program makes sense as a matter of immigration policy and as a labor policy.

A recent Politico article laid bare the true debate:

An immigration package without a guest worker program is almost guaranteed to fail.

“I’m not going to be a part of a bill that doesn’t create a process so people can come temporarily to work if we need them,” Rubio said. “They can’t undercut American workers, but if we don’t have a system for foreign workers to come temporarily when we need them, we’re going to have an illegal immigration problem again.”

Rep. Raul Labrador added: “There’s no way that a Republican would vote for immigration without a workable guest worker program. I think the unions know that, and if you see any break apart in this immigration reform thing that we’re doing, it’s going to be because the unions and the Democratic senators are unwilling to do what the American people want because they are willing to put the labor unions ahead of the American people.”

Read more:

Republicans haven't been moving towards immigration reform, or a path to citizenship, or responding to the changing voter demographics.  Republicans have gotten excited by the real chance, at last, to enact a guest worker program:
Republicans working on immigration legislation believe that they’ve greatly increased their leverage on guest workers in recent weeks by proving they can recruit tea party conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to the reform cause and keep talk radio relatively quiet.
In addition, on top of an official guest worker program, the currently discussed "immigration reform" proposals appear to contemplate millions of more guest workers, with current undocumented immigrants spending decades as "legal non-residents," moving to "green card" holders, and with no promise of citizenship:
[Mr. Rubio's] plan would give a temporary “nonimmigrant visa” to illegal immigrants, which would allow them to remain and work in the United States. They would have to wait a “significant but reasonable” period of time before they could apply to become legal permanent residents, going to the back of the line in the existing system. Once they became residents, they could go on like other legal immigrants to naturalize as citizens.

He acknowledged that major pieces of his plan remain to be worked out. According to current federal visa rosters, most Mexican-born immigrants applying to become permanent residents now face a wait of at least 17 years to receive their document — known as a green card — even if they followed the rules and were approved. Mr. Rubio’s proposal could add seven million more Mexican immigrants to those backlogs. The path to citizenship he proposes for illegal immigrants could be several decades long.

“I don’t have a solution for that question right now,” Mr. Rubio said.

This is a very big deal, and unprecedented.  The U.S. has never had a guest worker program. It has never had an official class of transient, non-citizen laborers.  That also is no accident. To date, Democrats have stood firm against repeated efforts to enact a guest worker program, and this specific issue has been the sticking point preventing past immigration reform bills. As recently as George Bush's 2007 immigration bill, the guest worker program was a central flashpoint and part of the reason the bill failed:
The American Immigration Lawyers Association decried the proposal as "large-scale social experimentation," singling out the "guest worker" program as one that would preclude a path to permanent residence for new temporary workers.

"A practical solution for the undocumented population is an enormously important step in the right direction," the association said in a written statement. "But the cost of fixing our current problems cannot be the creation of bigger problems in the future."

The guest worker program would grant special visas to 400,000 temporary workers per year. The two-year visas would require workers to return home for a year, then be allowed to re-enter the country for two more years. The process could be repeated twice more.

Workers would be allowed to bring their families into the country on 30-day visitor visas, and each year, they would earn points toward a merit-based green card.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, said that he would introduce an amendment striking the guest worker progam from any legislation.

Dorgan said that large corporations favor the guest worker program because it would drive down wages in the United States.

"America's workers have enough downward pressure on their wages because of unfair trade deals and corporate outsourcing of millions of jobs every year," Dorgan said in a statement. "The last thing they need now is to have an inflow of millions of more immigrants competing for their jobs at substandard wages."

AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said guest worker programs frequently amount to "virtual servitude," allowing employers to import temporary workers to do permanent jobs.

"All workers will suffer because employers will have available a ready pool of labor they can exploit to drive down wages, benefits, health and safety protections and other workplace standards," Sweeney said in a statement.

But . . . today . . . we are passively watching whether an "immigration reform" bill passes that in reality turns entirely on whether the country agrees to implement a guest worker program.  A central policy question that has driven past immigration reform debates is now largely unmentioned and ignored.  What happened?

Obviously, the millions of undocumented workers have been serving as a tacit and unremarked upon guest worker program. And I agree that this turn-a-blind-eye social policy should stop.  But should it stop by recognizing that, as always, we need immigrant labor and immigrants should be embraced?  Is there a reason Ellis Island is a tourist artifact?  Or, is there a "new normal" and we need guest workers who toil in a permanent second class status for certain limited industries?  (agriculture?  other areas?) Is it possible to implement a "guest worker" program that is not racially discriminatory and/or exploitative of labor?  Will this program drive wages and benefits down for all?  Are there lessons from other countries that have tried this? Are Republicans pushing hard to implement this policy now because they know it is a last chance before Hispanic-Americans gain further electoral clout? Should Democrats then hold out longer? etc.

I think a guest worker program is corrosive and a bad social policy.  But I remain open to discussing the idea, particularly with the Hispanic-American community and labor unions, both of which stand to be disproportionately hit by this policy.

But mostly all I hear is silence. Why is that?    

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Comment Preferences

  •  IMHO, the Cons are fixated on immigrants (3+ / 0-)

    as a population that can be conveniently segregated and satisfy their need for a social hierarchy. Calling them "immigrants" and talking about a road to citizenship is also consistent with their desire for a social hierarchy. In fact, most of the migrants the Cons are worried about are not intending to remain in the U.S. on a permanent basis. On the other hand, setting up a guest worker program with work permits conflicts with the Constitutional requirement that agents of government deliver equal treatment to all PERSONS because work is not a permittable activity and native born persons aren't and can't be required to get one. Permits are only issuable for activities that are potentially hazardous to the community at large. Labor is an ordinary human activity that is presumably good.
    Forcing employers to enforce segregation isn't going to work either.
    What we can do is order all employers to pay fair wages and provide safe working conditions.

    The Cons almost always have ulterior motives and, as often as not, they fail to get what they want because the ulterior motives are antagonistic to our social principles. Ditto for the effort to subjugate women by violating their privacy, ostensibly to "protect" fetuses, the source of more humans for them to dominate.

    Democrats who enable Cons should stop. Left to their own devices, they will fail, which actually doesn't bother them at all. Failure is their familiar.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 06:51:22 AM PDT

    •  We need a Minimum Wage for Immigrants. (0+ / 0-)

      How about...

      If you want to bring in a guest worker you must pay a $50,000/year permit fee and you must pay the worker a minimum of $200,000/yr salary.

      Why? Because you are saying that this immigrant is So Extra Specially Skilled™ that none of the millions of unemployed Americans are as cool as him.

      So if this guy is so Special, employers should be willing to pay, right? If not, they can shut up and hire Americans.

      Americans are skilled and we work hard. We can do anything that anyone else can do.

      If this means that I must pay more for fruit or for MRI exams, fine.  The fruit will taste better if non-citizens are not being exploited to pick it.

  •  Guest worker program is probably unconstitutional (0+ / 0-)

    If a guest worker program were enacted, the Supreme Court would probably strike it down for violating the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. A guest worker program amounts to a form of institutionalized servitude of immigrants.

    Of course, I'm not a lawyer, nor do I claim to be one.

    Polls don't vote, statistics don't vote, history doesn't vote, yard signs don't vote...PEOPLE VOTE!!!

    by DownstateDemocrat on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 06:52:55 AM PDT

  •  Suddenly? Like We Were All Over It and Just Quit? (5+ / 0-)

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 06:55:28 AM PDT

  •  The U.S. Has Eleven Different Guest Worker (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ManhattanMan, dfarrah, Victor Ward, Utahrd

    The U.S. has never had a guest worker program

    Visa programs, described here. The H-2A and H-2B guest worker visa programs have been around since the 1986 IRCA and have no numerical limits.

    But mostly all I hear is silence. Why is that?

    Because there is no way to blame the Republican Party for it as it's the Democratic Party leading the charge.

    I won't be coming home tonight, my generation will put it right - Genesis 9:3

    by superscalar on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 06:58:05 AM PDT

  •  because we can't let people come work and go home (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  Hunh? (0+ / 0-)

    How can it be that no one is talking about the guest worker program when you quote recent articles from Politico, New York Times, TPM, and CNN on this precise subject?

    I think it is telling that Raul Labrador (R-Lunatic Asylum) is already blaming the unions for the failure of the immigration bill. The unions should proudly take credit for it if it means stopping a program to expand and legalize modern peonage.

    •  Huh? (0+ / 0-)

      Only the Polico article talks about the guest worker program today in any minimal depth, and discusses it mostly in terms of politics, not substance.

      •  A suggestion... (0+ / 0-)

        I'd suggest you broaden your sources of reading material. A guest worker program, or programs, have been central to immigration reform debate since Bush II backed it six or seven years ago,

        •  A Suggestion (0+ / 0-)

          That was my point.  And it was discussed in such terms then (and before).  I don't see the discussion happening now though, particularly in the mainstream.

          •  Yes.... (0+ / 0-)

            Yes, a lot of the public discussion does seem to focus on "path to citizenship" to the exclusion of other elements that are being discussed.

            The Chamber of Commerce is not forgetting though. Labrador is echoing their argument that the AFL-CIO killed the Bush proposal because it wouldn't 'compromise' on guest workers.

  •  RETIII, FDR instituted a guest worker program (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Diary says

    The U.S. has never had a guest worker program. It has never had an official class of transient, non-citizen laborers.

    The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

    by nextstep on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 07:42:59 AM PDT

  •  An interesting alternative for Immigration reform (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jabney, Victor Ward

    Expand North America into a free labor zone.  Any citizen of Canada, US and Mexico are free to work and live in any of the three countries.  Doing this makes exploiting foreign works far more difficult as across these countries that are not foreign workers.

    Some US retirees may also want to retire to Mexico for the lower cost of living and climate.

    The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

    by nextstep on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 07:47:58 AM PDT

    •  EU did that. It's not that simple. You need (0+ / 0-)

      very tight integration between member countries for it to work. And even then everyone complained about Poles and Latvians coming in.

      •  We had been already doing this with Mexico, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        unofficially of course - and some did complain about people from Mexico coming in.

        The US should either do something like an open North America labor market, or have a formal foreign worker program to replace the illegal/undocumented approach of the past few decades.

        The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

        by nextstep on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 12:09:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I agree but open labor market is difficult when (0+ / 0-)

          there is significant income inequality between member countries. We'll have to muddle thru the next few decades until average income in Mexico becomes closer to that in US.  It may even take less time than that, they don't have to be equal.

  •  First any such program needs to prove that there (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ManhattanMan, MadGeorgiaDem

    are no citizens who can be trained to fill whatever jobs are going vacant.

    Take Md.s  There is a shortage of physicians, because we wouldn't spend the money to build more and better medical schools.
    The solution is not to import foreigners but to make training available to Americans.

    And that list goes on and on.

    I work in a medical research lab.  About half of our employees are non American.  Why are they well trained enough to quality when there are so few Americans well trained enough.

    We need to import because we as a country do not want to spend the money to educate and train, and because some low skilled job pay a below starvation wage, and or are seasonal.

    We have an existing green card system why add a couple dozen new layers of laws and regs to the point where it is so confusing no organization can keep track of what is going on with the folks it supposed to over see.

  •  Really? How old are you and how good is your (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ManhattanMan, Victor Ward, Utahrd


    The U.S. has never had a guest worker program.
    One word: "Bracero".

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 08:08:47 AM PDT

  •  The US has several "guest worker" programs (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ManhattanMan, Victor Ward

    right now.

    Not that I think they're a good idea - somebody should either be here will all the rights or privileges of a US Citizen

  •  We actually have had guest worker programs. (0+ / 0-)

    The bracero program is most famous. Until a decade or so ago, the sugar growers in Florida imported workers fro Jamaica and other Caribbean islands to harvest sugar.

    What we really need to do is cut a deal with Mexico to equalize the minimum wage (Raising Mexico's to our level) and legalize people crossing the border in both directions to find jobs.

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