Published on TheHill.com on November 13, 2012
Democrats want illegal immigrants to vote, because they are likely to be supporters, but not to work, because of union sensibilities. Republicans, on the other hand, want them to work — in agribusinesses and the like, often owned by their fellow partisans — but not to vote.
So the key to a Republican approach to immigration reform is to split off working from voting.
Fortunately, millions of Mexicans, Central Americans and people from the Caribbean come to America looking for work, not for the right to vote. Political rights concern them little. Economic ambition is the motivation behind their migration.
Republicans can gratify their economic aspirations more easily than can Democrats, and can do so without giving them the political power Republicans fear.
Here’s the deal:
1. Create a guest-worker program to fill the many needs of our economy that are not being, and likely cannot be, filled by our countrymen. Talk to any California farmer and he’ll tell you that he couldn’t harvest his crops without migrant labor. Many service businesses tell the same story. Canada has a guest-worker program that brings 150,000 people every year to Canadian farms at harvest time and returns them back home afterward.
Congress should give each of these guest workers a green card, entitling them to stay in this country as long as they were needed for work but conferring on them no pathway to citizenship or voting. Those already here illegally should be given legal status — amnesty — but for economic purposes only. Those who want to become U.S. citizens would have to go back home and go to the back of the line.
All guest workers should be paid at least the minimum wage and be required to pay taxes on their income.
If any guest worker is convicted of a crime, he or she should lose guest-worker status and be deported.
We should give priority to those already here as guest workers so that companies will not have to hire and train an entirely new labor force but can use their current illegal workers, newly made legal.
2. Employee verification must be universal and vigorously enforced. With legal jobs awaiting the migrants, there is no reason to let a black market in illegal employment flourish.
3. With the guest-worker program and E-verify must come strong penalties for any employer who hires illegal workers who are not part of the guest-worker program.
4. Border enforcement — including the wall — should be aggressive and include the use of National Guard units.
5. No benefits, other than guest-worker status, should be conferred on anyone who entered the country illegally, as adults or as children. They should be allowed to stay and to work, but not to join a citizenship track.
Some will argue that even a work-related amnesty program will encourage others to come here illegally. Why should it? If there is a risk-free, totally safe and legal way to come to the United States as a guest worker, what is the incentive to climb walls, swim rivers and evade the Border Patrol?
Conservatives must abandon their knee-jerk aversion to “rewarding” illegal behavior in any form. It is in both our national and our party’s interest to grant legal guest-worker status to those who are already here.
Such a position will defuse the immigration issue and confound the Democrats. They now blithely lump citizenship with legal work status. By separating economic status from political rights, we expose this facade and expose the Democrats for what they are: hypocrites who want Latino votes and could care less about their economic condition.
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