The massive new immigration initiative unveiled by the White House has Democrats and ethnic identity organizations accusing Republicans of election-year pandering, and has the Republican base wondering whether George W. Bush and the Republican Party has sold them out.
The initiative, which draws heavily on legislation already introduced in Congress by three Arizona Republicans, Sen. John McCain and Rep. Jeff Flake and Rep. Jim Kolbe, has two central components. It would provide a mechanism by which some U.S. businesses would be able to import an unlimited number of low-wage foreign workers, and it would allow most of the roughly 10 million illegal aliens already in the United States a means by which they (and their extended families) would be able to remain legally -- and permanently -- in the United States.
Advocates of strong enforcement of U.S. immigration laws charge that the new Bush plan is really a massive new amnesty for illegal aliens, in spite of repeated Bush administration assurances to the contrary. The administration, and the Republican sponsors of the parallel McCain-Kolbe-Flake plan (search) on Capitol Hill, claim that their plans are not really amnesties because they require illegal aliens to pay a small fee and wait a short time before they can receive their legal permanent status.
However, critics argue that any plan that allows, as the new Bush plan does, illegal aliens to remain legally and permanently in the United States without having to return to their home countries and apply to enter the United States legally like everyone else, is, in fact, an amnesty.
It remains to be seen whether Americans, who oppose amnesties by a 2-to-1 margin, will swallow the administration’s claims that the new “earned regularization” program isn’t really an amnesty.
Even more to the point, it will be interesting to see how the Bush not-really-an-amnesty plan plays in Mexico and among the billions of desperately poor around the world. Amnesty (search ) schemes are front-page news in the developing world, signaling millions of would-be illegal aliens to hurry and attempt an illegal border crossing of their own -- a process that results in the brutal deaths of hundreds of people every year on our dangerous borders. If the Bush plan triggers another upsurge in illegal crossings, it will be clear that, in the rest of rest of the world, at least, people are not buying Republican denials.
The second component of the new Bush initiative, the so-called “guest worker” proposal (search ), has also caused alarm among bedrock Republicans and supporters of a more moderate immigration policy. Here, again, immigration reductionists are charging the White House with using less-than-straightforward language to describe the plan. A “guest worker plan,” these critics note, would seem to indicate that a foreign national who comes to the United States to be a guest worker would, at some point, return to his or her home country, since “guests” go home at some point. The McCain-Kolbe-Flake plan, however, on which the White House is said to be modeling its proposal, contains no such requirement. “Guests” under their plan would be permanent.
Worse for immigration reductionists, the McCain-Kolbe-Flake plan sets no limit on the numbers of low-wage “guests” that business interests could import. The only limit set in the Arizonans’ plan is the hazy requirement that the foreign national would have to have a job “already waiting” for him or her; President Bush has often stated that he doesn’t see any reason that any “willing employee” shouldn’t be matched with any “willing employer.”
The knock against Republicans has always been that the party is in the back pocket of corporations and business interests, and this new amnesty/cheap labor proposal by the White House will do nothing to dispel that image. Indeed, some special business interests, economic libertarian extremists and long-time campaigners for open borders, like the corporate-funded CATO Institute, have already enthusiastically endorsed the Republican plan.
However, in a world in which there are nearly five billion people who live in countries poorer than Mexico, many Americans question the wisdom of turning U.S. immigration policy over to those who profit by cheap labor.
Immigration moderates reject the common assertion by the cheap labor profiteers that immigrants take jobs Americans don’t want. They point out that during the last time-out from mass immigration, which lasted the 40 years between 1925 and 1965, Americans not only invented computers, had a healthy labor movement, initiated the space program that put men on the moon, made great strides in civil rights and environmental legislation, built the largest economy the world has ever seen and successfully prosecuted WWII against two great powers on two fronts simultaneously, we also managed to get our dishes washed, our meat packed and our children cared for.
Americans are fully capable of running a country without importing an endless supply of cheap foreign labor (search), and the politicians of both parties who advocate amnesties and guest worker programs should put aside their short-term interests and encourage immigration policies that take into consideration the long-term consequences of mass immigration.
Craig Nelsen is the director of ProjectUSA, a non-profit immigration watchdog organization based in Washington, D.C.