Sunday, May 24, 2009

Putting Together the Pieces for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

The basic mantra of the Obama administration on immigration reform has been "secure borders and a pathway to citizenship" -- or sometimes "to legalization". That leaves a lot of details in-between and it's precisely the spelling out of those details that could cause a repeat of the failures of 2006 and 2007. The Arizona Republic, generally favorable to comprehensive reform, highlighted in an editorial what will be the crucial issue -- the issue of labor after an amnesty. The Republic argues that just technically improved enforcement at the border will never be enough. Eventually the job market for cheap labor will revive and the attraction to cross the border will follow as well. There always will be enough employers looking for a bargain.

So the issue will seem be: How does the demand for the cheap labor get met after legalization? The wages are not cheap in the eyes of desperate Mexican campesinos, but after an amnesty the foot-loose undocumented, now out of the shadows, won't even thinks of taking those jobs. Next month a serious discussion will begin in the Senate on how to structure a comprehensive reform that will address the need for future workers. Any proposal of creating special visas for temporary workers must include a couple of important provisions. Visas for temporary labor must not tied the guest worker to one employer. He/she should have some freedom of movement or right to change employers without penalty. Second, US labor, safety and health laws must strictly be enforced. Workers should be allowed to bring their immediate families with them. And finally workers who abide by the laws should have at the end of the visa (usually proposed as six years) the option to get permanent residency. Such a flexible system of work visas -- already proposed in the AgJobs Bill -- would provide a workable reform.

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