After years in political stalemate, immigration policy reform has once again come to the forefront of debate. This year holds the promise of a solution to the decades-old scrap over the free movement of people into and out of the U.S.
Sparked by the landslide victory of President Obama and carried on by the bipartisan effort of the so-called “Gang of Eight,” this seemingly unstoppable flood of support for immigration liberalization has yet to wane.
The proposal set forth by this “Gang” of four Republicans and four Democrats could represent an actual political desire to see real solutions set on the table — meaning that 2013 could hold the biggest victory of the Obama administration to date!
But before we get too wound up, let’s take a closer look at this so-called resolution to our immigration problem and the failed reforms of the past. The promises of Obama’s campaign and the proposal by the “Gang of Eight” hope to provide a “path to citizenship” for those here illegally, strengthen our borders, increase enforcement of immigration laws, and accept more high-skilled laborers into the U.S. workforce. Unfortunately, though, these plans still don’t cope with the long-term, systemic issue we face with future undocumented workers entering this country.
Without broadening our guest worker program and a legal pathway for future workers to enter the U.S., this plan will doom us to repeat this fight again. Although some form of legalization for the estimated 11 million undocumented workers now in the U.S. would be a good step, if we don’t expand opportunities for legal immigration for future waves of low-skilled workers, many immigrants will still have to break the law to come here for work.
Let’s not forget that President Reagan granted legal status to 3 million undocumented immigrants in 1986, but despite his desire, failed to provide a viable pathway for future laborers to come. Same fight, different time.
Despite the fact that guest worker programs, like the Bracero Program, have worked well before in this country, it’s pure politics rather than actual policy that will doom this effort from the start.
Surprisingly, the biggest opposition to this idea hasn’t come from the conservative right but actually from labor unions and Democratic politicians. Which makes sense: Labor unions dating back over a century have always discouraged the entry of new workers that would compete with their monopoly hold over labor contracts in certain industries. More recently, the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, and then Senator Obama joined together in opposition of President George W. Bush’s attempt in 2007 to expand the guest-worker program.
It’s tragically ironic that after riding the wave of Latino voters to victory, that it would be politically disadvantageous for Democrats to systemically change immigration policy. But politicians don’t keep their jobs by upsetting their biggest constituencies. And labor unions are the big guns for the left just as anti-immigration conservatives are still a small but loud voice for the right.
We are still presented with an opportunity for great change this year. But I worry that our elected officials will fall into the same mistakes of the past and tailor policy so that it won’t hurt their political crony.