Thursday, May 17, 2007

On the Immigration Compromise

Congress has reached a compromise on a bipartisan immigration bill. From the NY Times:

Senate negotiators from both parties announced Thursday that they had reached agreement on a comprehensive immigration bill that would offer legal status to most of the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants while also toughening border security.

If the bill becomes law, it would result in the biggest changes in immigration law and policy in more than 20 years. That would provide President Bush with a political lift and a tangible accomplishment for his second term. It would also be a legislative achievement for the new Democratic leaders in Congress, though they said they would seek changes in the measure.

At the heart of the bill is a significant political trade-off. Democrats got a legalization program, which they have sought for many years. Republicans got a new “merit-based system of immigration,” intended to make the United States more competitive in a global economy.

First, let me say that there are many good aspects to this bill, like the legalization program, the increased border enforcement, and the "merit-based" system (favoring English-speakers with needed job skills.) It also, however, contains a provision that is guaranteed to fail spectacularly:
The bill includes a temporary-worker program, under which 400,000 to 600,000 foreign workers could be admitted to the country each year.
Guest-worker programs have been a failure in Europe over the past thirty years. Germany is the most prominent example. The idea behind such programs, the "buffer theory" of immigration, is that workers can be imported in times of labor shortage and exported in times of labor surplus. The problem: it simply doesn't work. Guest workers put down roots in the country and work illegally, while their "guest" status discourages them from integrating socially. Representative Xavier is precisely correct when he predicts that the guest worker program will create “a permanent underclass of imported workers to fill American jobs.”

Bush has been pushing this for a long time:
As the governor of Texas, Mr. Bush had seen firsthand the challenges of border security and the lengths to which impoverished Mexicans were willing to go to enter this country illegally. What he depicted as “a rational immigration system” — one that would offer a temporary-worker program and a way for those who have set up working lives here illegally to become citizens — was a major part of his “compassionate conservative” agenda.
A guest-worker system requires immigrants to work in America and then return home, while a legalization program provides a gigantic incentive for workers to remain in the country illegally. Isn't it obvious that the two main parts of such a "rational" system are at odds?

No comments: