The recently proposed bipartisan recommendation for comprehensive immigration reform includes a worker verification process that will prevent identity theft and end hiring of future unauthorized workers. This is a guest worker program. The broad implications, if it becomes law, are multifaceted and affect the safety and security of the borders, with social and civil repercussions to foreign relations and the American economy.
Safety and security
Allowing immigrant workers to enter the US legally keeps the borders fluid for legal immigration and tourism.
The US Border Patrol has reported understaffing as a problem in addressing the vast networks of drug cartels in addition to the flow of illegal immigrants. The guest worker program will reduce the flow of illegal migrants seeking work, and allow border patrol more time to focus on drug trafficking and reducing border violence. Border towns like Tijuana and other border towns have experienced severe economic deterioration due to reduction in tourism because Americans are afraid to visit due to drug cartel violence. Increased focus by the Border Patrol to reduce violence benefits the local economies of Mexican border towns.
Border security should go beyond isolated criminal enforcement. The creation of better relationships with boarder cities and communities increases the likelihood of successful, nonviolent enforcement outcomes, instead of the Border Patrol being viewed with suspicion as an adversary. In the new legislation, commissions will be created in border areas composed of governors, attorneys general and community members.
Decriminalizes migrant hiring by employers
Employers, particularly farmers seeking seasonal migrant workers, are subject to hiring practices linked to the critical timing needed to harvest crops. Increased government oversight of hiring practices by employers and the guest worker program prevents would-be employers who have hired illegal migrants in the past from breaking the law. In addition, employers will have to follow best practices for treating guest workers with the same benefits, salary, and work place safety afforded American citizens, which has not been the case historically.
Exploitation of workers has been problematic in the past, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center report. The workers were treated like “slaves,” and did not have the same rights as Americans in the work place. For example, a program called the H-2 program was a “guest worker” program in 2005. Employers brought about 121,000 guest workers into the United States in 2005: Some 32,000 for agricultural work and another 89,000 for jobs in forestry, seafood processing, landscaping, construction and other non-agricultural industries.
Immigrant workers should retain the right to change jobs if they believe they are being treated unfairly by employers, provided medical benefits in case of injury on the job and allowed to keep their official documents of legal status. In the past, workers had to relinquish to employers any documentation proving they were in the country legally. Hiring additional government regulators for oversight of employers ensures immigrants are being treated humanely and encourages lawful compliance.
Improves foreign relations with countries of origin of immigrants
In response to the new proposed immigration reform, the Mexican foreign ministry said protecting the rights of individuals, “regardless of migratory status,” concerns millions living in Mexico as well as other countries and protecting citizens abroad continues to be of concern to their office, according to a CNN report.
Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations said in a report last week that the “current immigration policy is associated with substantial economic costs to the United States, and a more flexible immigration system that responds to labor market demands could give a huge boost to the U.S. economy."
Lessens incentive for human smuggling
Since the 19th century “Coyotaje” which is the practice of human smuggling from Mexico into the US has been a thriving business. The “coyote” charges a fee to Mexicans wishing to cross the border anonymously. Over the years anti-smuggling legislation raised the financial bar in terms of fines, and coyotes increased their fees to match the risk with fees ranging from $1,500-2,000 dollars. Border police report as many as 500 people could be brought into the US with this method—most of whom come here to work.
In one of the worst tragedies involving coyotes was in 2003 when a trailer packed with 100 people was discovered and 17 were dead from asphyxiation and heatstroke. The smuggled migrants were from Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala. The investigation revealed the people were trapped inside and tried to punch holes through the trailer so they could breathe.
A guest worker program neutralizes this costly and sometimes deadly practice in human cargo by allowing migrants a legal avenue to enter the US.
Film documents struggles
In one of the best and most horrifying movies about illegal entry into the US, the 1983 film“El Norte” follows the trek of a brother and sister from Guatemala as they travel through Central America and Mexico to reach the United States. They encounter a coyote who robs and cheats them out of their money. After crawling through a rat-infested drain pipe, they finally reach the Promised Land but discover life as an illegal is more difficult and tragic than they anticipated. In one of the final scenes, Rosa, from a hospital bed tells her brother Enrique poignantly, though painfully, “In our own land, we have no home. They want to kill us. ... In Mexico, there is only poverty. We can’t make a home there either. And here in the north, we aren’t accepted. When will we find a home, Enrique? Maybe when we die, we’ll find a home.”
The new bipartisan legislation acknowledges the immigration system is broken, resulting in 11 million undocumented immigrants living in limbo, employers struggling to hire enough workers to harvest crops and work in the service industry, and border security dealing with illegal entry as well as violence from drug cartels.
The goal now is to commit government resources needed to “modernize and streamline” the current system and create a fair legalization process for those who are already here. The worker verification process--or guest worker system—is one of the most comprehensive components of the proposal as it addresses safety and security, the dilemma of employer hiring practices, improves foreign relations, and contributes to the economy of the United States.