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Society and Community:
Immigration Policy Debate
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Debating the President's Immigration Plan

The question of immigration, both legal and illegal, has become increasingly complex after the events of September 11. Calls for increased border and internal security are coming into conflict with some of President Bush's immigration reform plans. This is especially true of his proposed Guest Worker program, which some Republicans strenuously attempted to keep out of the 2004 party platform.

The President's plan would offer temporary worker status to undocumented men and women now employed in the United States and to those who have been offered employment here. The workers under temporary status must pay a one-time fee to register in the program, abide by the rules, and return home after their period of work expires. Although in recent weeks the President has intimated that some sort of path to American citizenship may be included in the plan.

Some oppose the plan, labeling it "amnesty" for law breakers. [Immigration "amnesty" entered the political lexicon in the wake of the The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) which allowed undocumented immigrants who had been living in the United States since before January 1, 1982, to apply for permanent residency. The President insists his program is not an "amnesty" program.] (Read the White House Fact Sheet on the Guest Worker Program.)

Recently, there has been heated debate within the Republican party itself over proposed immigration reforms. In December 2004, Republican Representative Tom Tancredo was reported to have called the President's guest worker plan "a pig with lipstick." And, during the last week of January 2005, the issue came up again as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Republican James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, introduced a measure to block illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses, which he also attempted to attach to the bill to enact the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission last year. But the debate ranged beyond the problem of driver's licenses to the issue of immigration reform as a whole. Read more about the arguments on both sides below.

Discuss your thoughts on the topic.

For the Guest Worker ProgramAgainst the Guest Worker Program
"As a nation that values immigration, and depends on immigration, we should have immigration laws that work and make us proud. Yet today we do not. Instead, we see many employers turning to the illegal labor market. We see millions of hard-working men and women condemned to fear and insecurity in a massive, undocumented economy. Illegal entry across our borders makes more difficult the urgent task of securing the homeland. The system is not working. Our nation needs an immigration system that serves the American economy, and reflects the American Dream.

Reform must begin by confronting a basic fact of life and economics: some of the jobs being generated in America's growing economy are jobs American citizens are not filling."

- President Bush announcing his guest worker proposal, January 7, 2004

"Mexican illegal immigrants have monopolized jobs that don't require skilled labor--through acceptance of low wages and ethnic camaraderie--preventing unemployed Americans from pursuing and acquiring those jobs. Even though U.S. employers hire illegal immigrants for reduced wages, the average American wage still exceeds the average Mexican wage by a factor of ten--thereby creating an incentive for Mexicans to find jobs in the U.S.

Also, communities of legal immigrants create immigration networks for illegal immigrants so they can conveniently enter the United States, and find jobs and housing easily. These combined factors result in a situation where job competition prevents Americans from obtaining jobs that don't require skilled labor.However, this monopoly could be intensified if the Bush administration follows through with the implementation of guest-worker programs."

- "Illegal Immigration— Friend or Foe," Speech by Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado, House of Representatives, November 17, 2004

"Immigration reform must be comprehensive Ė it must address future workers who want to enter the country as well as the current undocumented population. Recognizing the very real labor shortage faced by many sectors of our nationís economy, reform must provide a workable, market-based system without arbitrary numerical limitations. If jobs go unfilled in the U.S., and no American worker chooses to fill them, those jobs should be opened to legal foreign workers. This system should be electronic, accessible, and easy to navigate for both employers and potential workers.

At the same time, in order to ensure we do not create a permanent underclass, new temporary workers must have complete portability to transfer from one job to another, a clear path to citizenship if they choose, and the ability to self-initiate that."

- Senator John McCain's testimony, BEFORE THE SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE, Mar 23, 2004

"There are three fundamental problems with the president's plan. First, the proposal gives too much power to employers...The president's proposal, because it requires employers to sponsor workers' temporary work visas and maintain their employment, will make these guest workers even more powerless against employer abuses than they already are...Second, by requiring workers to access the program through employers, the proposal fails to take current labor market realities into account. About half of current undocumented workers are in the "informal sector." ..Since these types of employers are unlikely to participate in the program, large numbers of workers will have no way of accessing it... Third, because the proposal provides legal status for a temporary time period and is completely separated from the green card process, it doesn't provide enough of an incentive for undocumented workers to want to participate."

- Janice Fine, Economic Policy Institute, "Bush plan's three flaws, BOSTON GLOBE, January 11, 2004.

"What is the immigration policy that makes sense in today's increasingly integrated but dangerous world? As things stand now, we are asking the American people to accept an inevitable end to the rule of law as they know it--guaranteed, routine, ongoing illegality in their neighborhoods and workplaces. It is an unthinkable request--no matter how good immigrants are for our economy.

The president proposes to connect willing workers with willing employers--not to create a new flow or add to the total number that enter the country each year, but merely to give most of the people who would otherwise come illegally a safe, orderly, legal option with a guest worker program. The president proposes to get rid of the existing black market by creating a path to legalization--by asking illegal workers who can otherwise prove their bona fides to come forward, pay a penalty, and get on the right side of the law."

- "Immigration Reform," Tamar Jacoby, American Enterprise Institute Lecture, February 1, 2005

"I want to look at the basic assumption underlying the whole Bush plan: that there are jobs Americans simply won't do, so that the importation of foreigners is essential. Whether these foreign workers are illegal aliens, guestworkers, or permanent legal immigrants is a detail to be worked out by us, the argument goes, but our need for them is unchanged.

Despite the protestations of employers, a tight low-skilled labor market can spur modernization even in the service sector: Automated switches have replaced most telephone operators, continuous-batch washing machines reduce labor demand for hotels, buffet-style restaurants need much less staff that full-service ones. As unlikely as it might seem, many VA hospitals are now using mobile robots to ferry medicines from their pharmacies to various nurse's stations, eliminating the need for a worker to perform that task. And devices like automatic vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, and pool cleaners are increasingly available to consumers. Keeping down low-skilled labor costs through the president's vast new guestworker plan would stifle this ongoing modernization process."

- "Jobs Americans Wonít Do," Mark Krikorian, NATIONAL REVIEW, January 7, 2004

More on the debate over immigration in America today

White House — Fair and Secure Immigration Reform
The official fact sheet on the President's proposed guest worker plan and other immigration reforms.

Center for Comparative Immigration Studies
The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at University of California, San Diego's primary missions are to conduct comparative and policy-oriented research. CCIS seeks to illuminate the U.S. immigration experience through systematic comparison with other countries of immigration, particularly in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Center for Immigration Studies
The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit research organization which generally favors tightening of immigration laws and enforcement. The Center's stated mission is "to expand the base of public knowledge and understanding of the need for an immigration policy that gives first concern to the broad national interest." The Center "seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted."

Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus
This Congressional Caucus general favors tightening U.S. immigration policy and expresses concern over the increase of immigration in the last decade — both legal and illegal.

'Legalization' or 'Amnesty'? Understanding the Debate
A position statement from the American Friends Service Committee. The group favors increasing services and protections for immigrants — legal and illegal. It "advocates for the full recognition and protection of the human rights of all people, including immigrants to the United States, documented or undocumented."

Managing Mexican Migration to the United States (PDF)
April 2004 report by the U.S.-Mexico Binational Council for the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Institute Technologico Autonomo de Mexico. The report addresses the prospect that if current trends hold the potential supply and demand on Mexican workers will remain high.

"The myth of the falling sky"
This book review and opinion piece by Tamar Jacoby of the conservative Manhattan Institute provides and concise overview of recent contributions to the field of immigration studies as well as a outline of Ms. Jacoby's views on the role played by illegal immigrants in the U.S. economy. Ms. Jacoby's suggestions for reform are similar to those of President Bush's. Open or shut? America's immigration mess and the history of its discontents. National Immigration Forum
Established in 1982, the National Immigration Forum calls itself "the nationís premier immigrant rights organization. The Forum is dedicated to embracing and upholding Americaís tradition as a nation of immigrants."

Additional sources: "Republicans Squaring Off Over Bush Plan on Immigration," THE NEW YORK TIMES, Jan. 27, 2005; "McCain urges Bush to make immigration reform a priority," THE PHOENIX BUSINESS JOURNAL, Jan. 20, 2005; "Republicans warn Bush on immigration policy," THE WASHINGTON TIMES, Jan. 28, 2004; "Congress Split on White House Immigration Policy, "FOXNews, Jan. 6, 2005.

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