George W. Bush recently announced the proposal of a ‘Guest Worker Program’ wherein immigrants can attain legal documentation allowing them to work and live in the United States. In it, there is a reunification of families clause that allows the nuclear family of said worker to join him or her in the states. Through a process of renewal and application, participants in this program will be provided with a green card and children whose citizenship is guaranteed. This superficially liberal or bipartisan legislation came as a surprise to millions of Bush supporters. However, the bill’s true purpose may be counterintuitive.
Liberal thinkers view the bill as a step in the right direction. The only criticisms come as indictments that the bill is too slow acting and not one of full and immediate amnesty. Following the general philosophies held on the left of the political spectrum, Bush’s plan provides a dramatic reduction in the amount of insurmountable hurdles involved in the naturalization process. By having the interim ‘guest worker’ status, a prospective immigrant has the opportunity to live and work while earning a decent wage legally and free from the constant paranoia of being deported or having to endure the harsh and dangerous treatment of coyotes, or smugglers who bring illegal immigrants across the Mexican border. Common rhetoric in support of immigration includes the assertation that a significant portion of the economy is derived from undocumented labor.
The majority of the congressional outcry is coming in the form of inner party strife. Although the proposal is not technically one of amnesty, a majority of republicans in the senate and house view it as such and so are vehemently opposed to it. The general disdain for the program stems from a concern that the new guest workers and their families will consume social services disproportionate to the tax revenue they produce. As the wording currently stands, newly legitimized laborers may find themselves still exempt from income tax and eligible for Medicare or even social security. The national minimum wage would apply which guarantees the workers about $4.75 an hour. Even with standard taxation, this income would not be sufficient to feed a family of four in this modern economy of skyrocketing real estate values and cost of living. The deficit in the family budget is estimated to be filled by the social programs designed to fulfill the needs of citizens.
It is naive to believe that any modern proposal can be entirely altruistic in nature and completely devoid of a political motivation. Catering to big business has always been the business of the conservative party. The underlying ideology is one of a trickle down theory, where legislation that leads to increased business profitability will trickle down to the lower classes in the form of higher wages and less expensive products. The new workforce will work for minimal wages and not be subject to the pesky labor laws concerning overtime and 40-hour work weeks. Large corporations will readily soak up this cheap alternative to conventional hiring and in return dump a generous sum into the republicans’ campaign coffers.
By legalizing immigrant labor, Bush is cutting a major leg out from under the democratic party platform. In taking back the terms used for social dialogue or criticism, he will have, in effect, taken away the issue’s saliency. To speak of ‘illegal immigration’ would be countered with the rationalization that the guest worker program does provide a real and attainable conduit to citizenship for foreign citizens. Pragmatically, the program can be structured with any of a variety of bureaucracies that will make it impossible to navigate thus effectually negating the naturalization part of the bill.
Those suspicious of the bill’s sincerity view it as a ploy in an election year designed to garnish the Latino vote. Republican supporters may agree in a round about way. If the bill is, in fact, sincere, then the party would hypothetically be making preemptive grabs at future generation’s votes as the children of migrant workers will be citizens and eventually (they hope) constituents.
Due to the age of the immigration debate and dogmatic absolutism in either party, the common information traded on the subject is a bilious river of misrepresentative or outright false facts. Democratic alarmists would have you believe that putting an end to illegal immigration would destroy California’s economy and thusly would trigger an international recession. Republicans would tell you that shutting the boarder is the rational act. The truth of the matter is that neither solution has even a remote basis in reality. Approximately 4 percent of the state’s gross product is composed of immigrant labor, legal or otherwise, and the price of produce and farm goods is compose of about 10 percent labor costs. Even if the cost of agricultural labor tripled, the price of a head of lettuce would not be noticeable. As far as shutting the boarders goes, the problem is one of diminishing returns, to effectively stop any and all illegal immigration is pragmatically impossible.
And it’s all your fault. After all, by voting (or not voting) you contributed to the hiring of these morally challenged individuals.
Joshua C. Guerrero is a third-year English major. He can be reached at Jcguerre@uci.edu.