There’s a strong argument against having lots of people in the country illegally. And there’s at least a colorable argument for limiting the number of immigrants competing with low-skilled American workers. But offhand I can’t figure out any advantage of a “guest-worker” program, except to the employers who get a legal and reliable source of easy-to-exploit, impossible-to-unionize labor and the Republicans who avoid adding potential Democratic voters to the citizenship rolls.
Insofar as we either need immigrant workers or don’t think we can succeed in reducing their numbers, why shouldn’t we want everyone who comes here to work to be someone who plans on staying? If the concern is that Latino immigrants in the Southwest aren’t assimilating fast enough, adding to Latino neighborhoods lots of Mexican nationals who are monolingual in Spanish and who have no reason to even try to assimilate ought to make things worse rather than better. (That’s if you assume that the “guest workers” will actually leave; if they don’t, we’re just saving illegal immigrants the risks of having to cross the border illicitly.)
Since it seems unlikely that any immigration bill without a guest-worker provision could pass this Congress, the best outcome for now is probably no bill at all. After today’s vote, that also seems like the most likely outcome.
Footnote From the perspective of the majority-party leadership, passing a bill is success and not passing a bill is failure. Journalists tend to adopt that perspective: a development that reduces the chance of a bill hitting the President’s desk is routinely described as a threat, as for example in today’s story in the New York Times:
Less than 24 hours after senators celebrated a bipartisan breakthrough on immigration policy, the effort to pass broad new legislation collapsed today in a partisan and procedural meltdown that threatened to derail the issue for the year.
If that sentence were rewritten with “offered hope of derailing the legislation for the year,” the reporter would be criticized for injecting editorial opinion into a news story.
Yet it is certainly possible — and in this case I think it true — that the public interest is best served by not passing legislation. So the journalistic convention that assumes that legislation equals progress probably ought to be dropped, except when everyone involved in the process agrees that an impasse is damaging to the public interest, as in the case of a budget impasse that forces a government shutdown.