Sunday, April 30, 2006

Monday’s Immigration Reform Protest: A Bad Idea

Activists have called for a nation-wide job “walk off” on Monday in order to pressure Congress and the Administration to legalize those who have crossed US borders illegally to find jobs. I do not believe this will help their cause in any way.

There is no question that the US economy is helped by the presence of a massive number of workers who have entered the US illegally. These illegal workers contribute to the strength of the economy, providing it with some of the work force necessary for continued growth. For that very reason, President Bush is right when he calls for a guest worker program that would permit the US to legalize the over ten million currently illegal workers employed in the economy.

House Republicans are also right to insist that these individuals not be credited with even a second on the clock toward citizenship. What we need is a guest worker program, not a citizenship program. Judging by the Mexican and Latin American flags in the streets during recent protests, it would appear that most of those working illegally in the US economy are not interested in US citizenship. Rather, they are interested in jobs. In that sense, they are not immigrants. So, it seems that we have a happy convergence of interests on these issues.

However, the compromise necessary to get a rational guest worker program that does not radically increase the voting population by linking a job to potential citizenship is not likely to be encouraged by this Monday’s action. It is more likely to anger a very large portion of Americans, particularly in the heartland. The presence of illegal workers is particularly felt in our coastal areas located largely in “blue states.” These states are a good deal more economically and politically sensitized to the need for these workers. While the protests will likely resonate in the “blue states,” citizens in “red states” are more likely to see this as an attempt at economic (and political) blackmail. That will only harden opposition to compromise at a time when compromise is what is needed.

It is hard to imagine that the protest organizers are not aware of this. Hence, it would appear that they do not want compromise. They want confrontation. Secure jobs may be what most of the illegal population seeks, but that is not the goal of the organizers of this action. They would seem to have other aims in mind. Unfortunately, they are willing to use both the illegal workers and the legitimate issue they represent as pawns in their own political game.

2 comments:

Ronan Conlon said...

Hi Dr. Clark, thank you for your continued analysis and insight on your economic blog. One question that I have is relates to "guest worker programs." I overheard you talking to a student a few weeks ago about this topic among political elites as one of a battle of language. Liberals stress the phrase "undocumented workers" while conservatives state "illegal aliens." Doesn't the phrase "guest worker program" seem like a conceptual contradiction? Dr. Clark, come over to my home and be my guest for dinner, and while you're here, please clean the bathroom and mow the lawn...

Terry Clark said...

Yes, words do matter. The term "undocumented immigrant" is meant to imply that illegal workers are leaving their country (immigrating) for the purpose of gaining citizenship. Since they have a job, we need to give them a green card (i.e., document them). The term "guest worker" suggests that they are not, and will not become citizens. They are only here to work. Finally, "illegal aliens" is meant to imply that they have no purpose in the U.S. and should be deported.