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Guest Worker Bliss: Another Immigration Reform Fairy Tale


The problem with comprehensive immigration reform is that it will create even more problems.

The so-called Senate Gang of Eight is close to a deal on immigration, and a much-touted part of that package is a new guest worker program. Senator Schumer, who asserted over the weekend that a guest worker program had been a “deal-breaker” in the past, said that the broad strokes are all in place for this new visa category.

But if the newly devised guest worker plan is any indicator of how the final Senate bill will look, immigration reform will be a very bad deal for the American people.

First, there are the unseemly law-as-sausage-making aspects of the guest worker negotiations. That the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO-- two powerful special interests—have de facto legislative and veto power over a law that will dramatically affect 300 million Americans should give us all pause.

The reasons for the lobbying are self-evident. The Chamber of Commerce wants to maintain access to cheap supplies of labor for domestic businesses, and limit their exposure to increased costs that would come with legalized status for immigrants.

The labor unions want to protect their turf until illegal immigrants are legalized, then convert them into freshly minted union dues payers who are ready to man the picket line at a moment’s notice.

Unfortunately the U.S. taxpayer has to rely on Congress for representation at the guest worker negotiating table, and that won’t be enough. The guest worker program may sound feasible in concept, but its implementation will be fraught with pitfalls.

There are key questions about the guest worker program that nobody seems to have bothered to answer so far. Take just a few examples:

1) Won’t this new “W Visa” merely co-exist alongside, instead of replacing, illegal immigrants in the covered (non-farm) positions?

Absent E-verify or a similar form of employer-based enforcement, there is no reason to believe that the new system will dramatically change anything. As it stands now, the W Visa program would be phased in starting around 2015, and would start with 20,000 workers-- an entirely insignificant number.

Unless there are sweeping changes made to other immigration issues—including securing the border and workplace enforcement—the W Visa is likely to be dwarfed by the continued employment of illegal immigrants, and end up as yet another failed federal program.

2) Won’t those who choose the path of legality be at a disadvantage for those same jobs against illegals?

It may seem impolite to say, but for many employers what makes illegal immigrants attractive hires is their illegality. This allows them to receive lower wages, keeps them off the books, and forces the taxpayer to pick up the bill for shortfalls in healthcare, education, and other services.  So W Visa workers will be at a competitive disadvantage against their illegal counterparts.

In addition, the AFL-CIO website says that under the W Visa program, workers will be entitled to all state and federal workplace protections.  And it has been proposed that W Visa workers will be able to petition for permanent status in the U.S. after one year. One can easily imagine how this would work out: in a country with 11 million illegal immigrants already, an invitation to stay on a W Visa would, legally or not, quickly turn into a permanent residency.

3) And why do we think a new bureaucracy will effectively manage market demand for labor?

To top it all off, the reform mavens in the Gang of Eight have concocted a new federal entity: the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research. It goes without saying that this new federal bureaucracy tasked with managing the guest worker flow will be ineffective, expensive, and eventually worthless, except to the civil servants it gainfully employs to do minimal work.

So there we have it: there are major implementation concerns surrounding the Senate’s proposed guest worker program, and that is just a small part of a much more complicated comprehensive deal that will likely make the rounds in Congress soon. There may be a grand bargain on immigration, but it could come at a very high price for the American people.

Despite what the leftist media wants Americans to believe, opposition to a comprehensive, all-in-one immigration reform is not an outgrowth of ethnic bias or economic nativism.

The problem with comprehensive immigration reform is that it will create even more problems.

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