February 22, 2013
One of the selling points for immigration advocates is to present a united front to the unsuspecting public. If businesses, academics, farmers, religious leaders, the man in the street, Republicans and Democrats are all on board, then the legislation should be a slam dunk.
When it is reported that the White House, Congress and the willing mainstream media declare that a coalition of just about everybody has risen above their differences to agree on amnesty, then it’s implied that you should be on board too.
Early during the Senate talks, a bump in the road threatened to derail amnesty negotiations. Organized labor and the Chamber of Commerce—previously rumored to be in accord—were actually at odds over whether the final immigration agreement should include guest worker programs. But when the word leaked out that the two sides weren’t, in the words of one observer, “even speaking the same language,” the Chamber slapped together a press release announcing that it had agreed in principle with labor on terms for new low-skilled worker visas.
Impartial observers realize that unskilled workers are the last thing the U.S. labor market needs more of given its high and sustained unemployment rates. Although guest worker programs are most commonly associated with agriculture, many other businesses profit from them including the hospitality industry—restaurants, hotels, motels, ski and beach resorts to name but a few. Unemployed Americans would eagerly do those jobs save for guest workers.
The immigration debate has purposely overlooked an easily obtained visa which allows business to import an unlimited number of workers, the H-2A. To obtain an H-2A visa, an employer must first certify to the Labor Department that no American worker is available, and then petition the Department of Homeland Security. At that point, a foreign worker can go to a U.S. embassy or consulate and apply to the State Department for a visa.
Growers roundly criticize the H-2A for being too cumbersome and time consuming. To that unpersuasive argument, I counter that filing my annual income tax return is tedious too. But to comply with the law, I have to do it. The reality is that the H-2A’s provisions include conditions that employers would prefer not to fulfill like providing housing, transportation and workers compensation. Heaven forbid that the workers be treated humanely! And why bother anyway since illegal alien workers are readily available, more compliant and cheaper to hire?
The agriculture industry’s greed is hard to quantify. On one hand, it wants more expansive guest worker programs—but only the kind it approves of. As Congress’ immigration talks press on, growers worry that if citizenship is granted as part of any new legislation, their laborers might eventually seeker better paying jobs. The industry has come up with the novel but also callous idea. Workers would earn permanent legal residency by working a certain number of days each year. The longer they work, the more quickly they would qualify for a green card. This plan, presented with a straight face, is reminiscent of slave labor. Stay here and work—or else!
Industry loves guest worker programs. Nothing improves the bottom line more than abundant cheap labor. But the rest of America doesn’t make out so well. Not only don’t Americans directly participate in the profits, we bear increased immigration’s ongoing costs. Consider for example the unmentioned variable of guest workers’ future children. Workers come and have children who are citizens at birth. The expanded families add to population growth especially in overcrowded California and Florida where most ag workers will land. They enroll in schools, qualify for welfare, push taxes higher, etc., ad infinitum.
For Americans, cheap labor has a high cost. The H-2a visa is temporary. When the work is done and the terms of their contracts met, the workers go home.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1986. Contact him at email@example.com