The immigration deal

Yes, it has guest-workers. But it’s better than the status quo.

At last, white smoke.

1. If you think, as I do, that the #1 problem is the existence of a large undocumented population, then the proposed bill is probably a good solution. Since we’re not in fact going to expel 10 million people, the alternative is to give them documents.

2. If you’re worried, as Mickey Kaus is, about another 10 million crossing the border in hopes of the next regularization, you ought to consider the supply-and-demand process in the labor market. If employers have all the newly documented workers to choose from, plus the slave laborers indentured servants braceros guest workers the bill would allow, they won’t have much incentive to hire new illegals, and if the improved employer sanctions program materializes they’ll have more disincentive than they do now. Immigrants come here to work; if there aren’t jobs, they won’t come.

3. The Republicans’ cynicism is showing. They seem to have held out for “guest-workers” as the one piece they wouldn’t budge on. That’s the piece that’s most advantageous to exploitative employers, and most disadvantageous to low-skilled U.S. workers. And it creates a pool of potential new “illegals”: some people will overstay their guest-worker visas who wouldn’t have risked crossing the border illegally. At the same time, the absurdly long citizenship process for the newly-regularized immigrants does nothing to reduce their labor-market or social impact, but it does a lot to protect Republicans’ partisan interest in not creating new Latino voters. (I see we’re not all the way back to the Know-Nothings: they wanted a fourteen-year path to citizenship; while the new bill stops at thirteen. Whooppeeee!)

4. “Touch-back” &#8212 the requirement that heads of household must return to their countries of origin at some stage in the process &#8212 may be the single stupidest idea I ever heard of. It does, as far as I can see, no actual good, and much harm. Apparently it was a concession to the “anti-amnesty” forces; by symbolically making those who entered illegally go back and apply, it provides the illusion that they didn’t manage to jump the queue. But what a stunning amount of waste motion to require for such a transparent fig-leaf!

I’m glad to see Harry Reid wants to modify the guest-worker program. I’d like to see it killed, along with the H-1B visa. (If we’re going to start to base new immigrant visas partly on skills, then that’s the way we should fill whatever holes our educational system leaves in the supply of software engineers.) But much as I hate that whole guest-worker idea, given a straight-up choice between the status quo and the new proposal I’d take the new proposal.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: