Homeland Security Secretary (DHS) Michael Chertoff made clear in his wrap-up speech on the “State of Immigration” that comprehensive immigration reform should include a three-pronged strategy of strict enforcement, border security, and immigrant worker programs.
Business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, have objected to employee verification programs because they cost businesses time and money. Noting this opposition, Chertoff retorted: “In my experience, making money is not a sufficient justification for violating the law, since most people break the law in order to make money.”
But he readily acknowledged that enforcement-only is not the answer. “I think it would be a lot easier if we said to businesses if we can work together to have a legal way to get the workers, that is a win-win. You get the workers, the workers get protected, and we are obeying the law.” What’s needed, he said, is “comprehensive immigration reform that addresses the issue of temporary workers.”
“It is our philosophy, it is my personal philosophy that the answer to dealing with the problem of jobs that Americans do not seem to want to fill, is not to allow people to come in illegally, to break the law to fill them, but to create a regulated legal, visible and secure path, to invite people in when we want to invite them in, under the terms and conditions that satisfies us as Americans, that we are comfortable with the security and the economic impact of that migration in that temporary work, and also using a path that is transparent and protects the workers themselves from the kind of exploitation some of them experience when they come in an illegal status.”
There is simplicity to Chertoff’s proposal missing from other comprehensive immigration reform proposals. Rather than address the complexities of a “pathway to citizenship” or “earned citizenship,” Chertoff simply ignores the entire issue of possible citizenship for the 11-12 million illegal immigrants, focusing exclusively on temporary work programs as the legal path for new foreign workers.
In its simplicity – enforcement plus temporary worker program – Chertoff’s proposal for comprehensive reform lays out only two options for illegal immigrants – removal or temporary work permits.
This solution suddenly looked more possible when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that any solution would have to be bipartisan, which would mean sacrificing some of Democrats' past priorities, such as giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
"Maybe there never is a path to citizenship if you came here illegally," Pelosi said. "I would hope that there could be, but maybe there isn't," she said.
If there is no pathway to citizenship, immigrants now in the country illegally can expect increasingly precarious lives. Only if they sign up for a temporary or guest worker program will illegal immigrants likely be permitted to stay in the country. But most illegal immigrants don’t work in industries, such as agriculture, that have traditionally been included in temporary worker programs.
Immigration restrictionists, while pleased that “pathway to citizenship” proposals seem to be losing support even among Democrats, are already preparing their forces to do battle against a broad new temporary workers program that would possibly give worker visas to current illegal immigrants and to new flows of foreign workers.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, for example, has incorporated a response to a Chertoff-like proposal to expand temporary worker programs. In FAIR’s newly released Seven Principles of True Comprehensive Immigration Reform, one of its reform principles states: “Redefining illegal aliens as ‘guest-workers’ or anything else is just that: a redefinition that attempts to hide the fact it is an amnesty, not reform.”
While acknowledging that there may be some need for temporary workers in the U.S. economy, FAIR aims to wage battle on the benchmarks Congress and the new administration set for determining the need for foreign workers. Rather than relying on employers or even the government to document a shortage of workers, FAIR says that “the need for guest workers must be determined by objective indicators that a shortage of workers exists, i.e., extreme wage inflation in a particular sector of the labor market.”
In other words, unless businesses can show that they are paying exorbitant wages to attract labor, any plea for foreign workers should be rejected. Echoing the language of many unions and progressives, FAIR, in its principles for comprehensive immigration reform, declares: “Immigration policy should not be permitted to undermine opportunities for America's poor and vulnerable citizens to improve their working conditions and wages.”