Mark’s post asking why guest workers would be good for the country may have an easy answer: easy politically, that is. As some expert or advocate pointed out on NPR last night (I know that’s vague: it’s too late to look it up, and I’m not claiming to have thought of it myself; email me and I’ll give proper credit *see update below), much of the debate has assumed that guest workers would be Mexican—but in an age of cheap plane fares, why should they be? Mexican wages are pretty high by developing-country standards, especially at purchasing-power-parities, and under a guest worker program labor recruiters would have every incentive to look in Asia or the Middle East (or, the expert might have added, Africa) instead. So guest workers would provide the “benefit” of being dirt cheap: Mexicans take jobs now not because nobody can beat their wages, but because they can get across the border.
The attractions to business-backed Republicans of paying African rather than Mexican wages become clear. That lowest-wage recruitment would make the social gap between guest workers and citizens even more yawning than Mark suggests is also clear. My aspirations tend towards giving all residents uniform rights and increasing opportunities, not looking forward to lording it over a new class of desperate laborers who fear starvation if fired—even if their presence would let me pay a nickel less for each lettuce. Mark is right: sink the bill, and rejoice if it’s sunk already.
By the way, Mark doesn’t mention the biggest reason why journalists root for bills to pass: civics classes. How many junior high school teachers teach units on “how a bill doesn’t become a law”?
UPDATE [April 8, 11:15 a.m.): OK, I’ve checked. The “expert or advocate” was Mark Kirkorian of the Center for Immigration Studies. That organization professes “a pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision which seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted.” In practice, that seems to mean a lot of worries about the national security risks of porous borders rather than the cultural risks of having Mexicans in the country. This would explain why Kirkorian talked up guest workers from the Middle East and Asia instead of Africa and started discussing guest workers as security risks about when I turned off the day before yesterday. It’s hard to paint Ghanians as likely terrorists; I’m more afraid of crazy white guys myself.
I have no particular interest in this viewpoint. So: go ahead and distrust the messenger if you want, but the factual point that guest workers might not be Mexicans still seems right,and interesting for reasons different from Kirkorian’s.