David R. Henderson  

Nowrasteh on Guest Workers

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That is why a robust guest-worker program is needed: to accommodate future flows of migrants. After decades of unauthorized immigration motivated by economic gain, it is fantasy to expect it to stop after legalizing those unauthorized immigrants already here. Let us not forget that President Ronald Reagan tried an amnesty in 1986 ‑ which failed because it legalized the workers here but did not provide a viable pathway for future workers to come.

What we need is a legal way for lower-skilled immigrants to enter the United States -- and a guest-worker visa program is the easiest avenue.

So why doesn't the proposed immigration reform include a comprehensive guest-worker program? Surprisingly, the main issue is not opposition from conservative Republicans. It is unions and their supporters who do not want it.

In the 2007 immigration reform push, an amendment that would have ended the guest-worker program after five years destroyed Republican support.

The then-leaders of the AFL-CIO, the Laborers' International Union of North America, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers and the Teamsters all wrote letters opposing guest workers and supporting the amendment.

This is from a short op/ed by Alex Nowrasteh. It's "Immigration plan does only half the job," Reuters, January 29, 2013. His whole piece is worth reading.

What caught my eye is the middle paragraph in the quote above. Like many people, I had bought the idea that the Republicans were the problem in preventing progress on immigration. But as this piece shows, one of the main problems was opposition by labor unions.

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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Mark Brady writes:

So what's new? The United Farm Workers during Cesar Chavez's tenure was committed to restricting immigration.


Joe Cushing writes:

All this talk about guest workers is just more political BS anyway. I have an idea, why not just make the border wide open. No visas, no passports, no questions, no searches, no border patrol, no fence, no customs agents, no I-9 form--just forget the imaginary line drawn on a map exists. Make it easier to move from mexico to the US than it is to move from Michigan to Florida.

I was just venting. I know that's not going to happen as long as there is a US government--not that the US government is sustainable. I think it's healthy to take a moment and step back from the political nonsense and say what really should happen.

John Thacker writes:

The amendment ending the guest worker program was widely known to be a wrecking amendment, and Ted Kennedy was very upset when it passed by a single vote.

Then Senator Obama and Senator DeMint were two of the surprise votes in favor of the amendment; DeMint's vote was definitely to wreck the entire bill, and Obama's vote was seen as a betrayal of his earlier pledges of support of the overall compromise.

See the late Bob Novak's column shortly after it happened here.

Bostonian writes:

When "guest workers" have children here who are automatic U.S. citizens, are we ever going to send them home? No. Given the fact of birthright citizenship, I think people who use the term "guest worker" are being misleading.

Alex Nowrasteh writes:


Unauthorized immigrants who have young citizen children here are deported currently.


Roman Lombardi writes:

Mr. Nowrastah, in your article, you seem to take Labor's concern for worker safety at face value...is that true? I've been a member of both Boilermakers and Machinist unions...and my experience was that worker safety hasn't generally been an issue for a long time...they always seemed like their top priority was extracting dues from members and excluding others from entry to the trades...they abhor competition.

shecky writes:

The reason you bought the idea that the Republicans were the problem in preventing progress on immigration, is that Republicans are doing their best to sell the idea.

Immigration liberalization is an area where opposite sides of the spectrum reach sometimes similar conclusions for different reasons. In recent times, however, it looks to be the Republicans who spare no effort in coming down against any immigration, and feel compelled to do so loudly and dramatically. I attribute this to the rise in power among grassroots conservatives within the party, who seem to reject the free market impulses of traditional Republican elites in favor of America-first patriotism-based economics.

MikeP writes:
Surprisingly, the main issue is not opposition from conservative Republicans. It is unions and their supporters who do not want it.

Of course Alex Nowrasteh must have meant "unsurprisingly", since this is utterly unsurprising to anyone who pays attention.

Or perhaps he or his editor shortened "Unsurprisingly to me, but maybe surprisingly to you, ..."

Ken B writes:

@Alex Nowratesh:
Regarding your answer to Bostonian. Is there a family unification plan such as there is in Canada, and if not do you think there might be political pressure for one in the future? Considering the Public Choice overtones, will there be a highly motivated lobby for such a plan? These I think are the real issues raised in Bostonian's comment.

Ken B writes:

My first wife's family benefitted from her place of birth. Her parents were escapees from Hungary, who amde a daring, even heroic overland flight to Austria after the death of their first child. They came to Canada and their daughter was born almost immediately after landfall. Speaking neither French nor English it is possible their ability to stay might have been imperilled had their daughter not been a citizen at birth. That would have been a pity.

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