Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What's the deal with "guest workers" anyway

Like many other phrases that have sprung from the oxymoron rich mouth of George Bush, the term "guest worker" has entered the American political lexicon relatively unquestioned. The Boy King first uttered the phrase back in those heady days after his first electoral mandate in 2000 as part of his big plan to overhaul the nations failing immigration system. Long before his Solomon-like decision about stem cell research or his brilliantly executed "War on Terror," there was his guest worker program. Cooked up on his first official state visit with his long-time compadre, Vinnie Fox, it was to be his first great initiative, that is until a few months later when the real world came crashing in on him as he read his little goat book.

The term has been accepted by the American people to mean a group of people from foreign nations who come here for a short period of time to work. Then when their term of employment is over they are expected to return back to the hovels from whence they came. Not exactly how one is supposed to treat a "guest."

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Yet, as a new Congress is poised to begin under Democratic control that might be taking up the issue of immigration reform, a question now should be asked...."What's the deal with guest workers anyway."

As one who has advocated for comprehensive immigration reform from the start, I am fully cognizant of its power as a bargaining chip in the debate. But I can't help but think it's time is near an end.

Obviously Bush, Fox (the twin lame ducks) and the corporate crowd want their "guests" because they're good for business.

But the real question should be, who else is served by this kind of program? Certainly not the majority of our "guests" who under the Senate's plan would still have numerous restrictions placed upon them, have no additional wage or workers rights protections and face the possibility of being forced to return home after three years. As for native –born workers this plan offers little protection outside of employers attesting that they can't find workers at the prevailing wage, tying "guest" workers to the unemployment rate, and some protections for those without a high-school education.

Bush often claims his plan will allow "willing employers and willing workers to come together to do the jobs Americans won't do." But like all Bush-speak, when examined closely, the phrase means absolutely nothing. If in fact there is a job an American won't do, and an employer needs a foreign worker to do it, how is it that after an arbitrarily set amount of time that foreign worker will no longer be needed.? Outside of seasonal agricultural work or a particular project that has a finite end, what kind of jobs end after a set period of time? What kind of jobs are there that would require 325,000 un-skilled "temporary guests"?

While immigration activist look at the temporary guest worker program as a concession they are willing to make since at least it provides an eventual path to LPR status and green cards to large numbers of immigrants, upon careful consideration one must ask why is the program needed at all. It only leaves open a door to abuse and misuse of the system.

If an employer needs a worker today to fill a job, how can he, the government or anyone else, possibly know that the job will no longer exist in an arbitrary amount of time like three or six years. That is the premise this program has to work on in order to make any logical sense. If not, and the job is in fact available after that time, why would there be any reason to have a "temporary" guest?

It comes down to a question of logic.

If in fact the labor market dictates that a given number of low-skilled workers are needed every year to fill jobs in this country, and these jobs can not in fact be filled with native workers, than the solution is to allow people from other nations to come and fill them. Not as temporary, disposable workers to be replaced as soon as they gain economic privileges, but as full-fledged new members of society who can enjoy the fruits of their labor without fear of possibly being uprooted.

It seems very simple to me: Would American workers sign on to a plan by which there was a possibility that they could never stay at one job any more that three years? Would they accept a plan that assured they could never qualify for a pension, pay raises, extra weeks of vacation, medical benefits, a 401K, and all the other perks that go with long-term employment? Would American workers accept that they would have to uproot their families and move every few years?

Of course not .... We believe in free will and economic autonomy.

How we are to determine the levels of immigration going forward and how many workers are needed are questions for another day, but for now I would just like to see an end to the whole notion of temporary guests coming to work. We either need workers or we don't, that situation is never temporary.

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