Now that President Bush has made creation of a workable guest worker program a priority for his second term, let’s see who in Congress has the courage to withstand the xenophobic backlash that always greets immigration reforms, no matter how necessary and well-crafted.
Thankfully, most of Arizona’s congressional delegation, as well as those of other border states, are behind a practical solution to the problem of illegal immigration. For such a solution to work, it must include some form of guest worker pass for foreigners already in this country — many illegally — as well as others determined to come here, one way or another.
The program must include an avenue by which illegal immigrants can become legal guest workers. One bill already in Congress and sponsored by several members of Arizona’s delegation includes an application process and fee. Supporters call it a realistic way to transition many productive and otherwise law-abiding members of America’s work force into fully legal employment status. Critics call it amnesty for lawbreakers.
But let’s be completely honest in discussing these “lawbreakers.” There are worse crimes than slipping across a political boundary in order to earn a better living for one’s self and family. Even the most zealous of the anti-immigrant crowd ought to acknowledge, and take some pride in, the fact that America, for all the pummeling we take in the international arena, is still the land of opportunity for those who lack opportunity at home but have the gumption to make the always difficult and sometimes deadly trek to get here.
Also important to acknowledge is that the American economic miracle always has depended on a plentiful supply of entry-level labor — usually provided by immigrants. Yes, business always benefits from reasonable labor prices, but so do consumers who enjoy the resultant lower prices. And while the laborers toil hard for relatively low wages, those workers wouldn’t be here if they could earn at home anything approaching what they make here. It’s easy for liberal prigs to sniff at “exploitation,” but quite another to hear day laborers themselves complain about their situation.
That is the social and economic reality — a reality that some refuse to acknowledge, let alone accommodate. And that refusal is why we sit here today quibbling about a problem that can either be addressed with a practical solution — that is, a guest worker program — or by brute force, which is what the anti-immigrant crowd really wants. That would lead to a virtual police state with ID papers required for just about everything, and a major deployment of the U.S. military along the border.
We’d rather see our tax dollars spent on troops stabilizing the Mideast, where the determined are trying to destroy us, rather than on ones deployed along the Mexican border, where the determined are trying to work for us. And the longer we delay a practical border solution, the easier it will be for some of those out to destroy us to slip across.
President Bush deserves credit for making immigration reform a priority.
Congress needs to stop catering to xenophobes and enact workable reforms.