In his national radio address last weekend, President Bush introduced a temporary worker plan to spark debate on illegal immigration. This “temporary worker” plan would grant foreign nationals here illegally, as well as those considering illegal entry, the temporary privilege of working in the United States. Although the notion of a temporary worker plan is far superior to the draconian schemes proposed by conservatives, his plan would still fall short of humanitarian immigration reform.
Clearly, everyone supports secure borders – it is in our national interest to know who is entering and exiting our country. However, all along the southern border, where people are willing to risk their lives and futures to cross into the United States, border security is a pipe dream. This plan, which would give potential illegal immigrants a legal way to enter the United States, is beneficial to that end. With less border violence and fewer illegal crossings, border control can focus on stopping potential terrorists – not immigrants seeking better lives – from entering the country.
Furthermore, this plan would deter potential illegal immigration by providing a legal route for temporary employment in the United States. If anything, the plan should help those looking to immigrate; with legal status, immigrants will not have to fear law enforcement and simply tolerate abhorrent work conditions and abuse. Legal temporary immigrants would have a powerful recourse against subpar wages and unsafe conditions.
However, while this plan could help stop workers who have not yet illegally crossed over from doing so, illegal immigrants already here have no incentive to come forward – once a worker completes his stints, the government sends him back to his country of origin. For many illegal immigrants – who have lived in this country for years and decades – deportation would make them start over in countries with fewer resources and opportunities. For children of illegal immigrants who were born here and regard the United States as their country of origin, such a forced move would be very traumatic. Consequently, these families will continue to live in fear of the government, in appalling conditions, without the benefits of fair wages and treatment. While these conditions and wages may be superior to those in other countries, they are still not fair – and thus unacceptable.
The only way to ensure that immigrants are treated humanely is to provide complete amnesty for those who are already here, while launching this temporary worker program for those who have yet to immigrate. An amnesty program would remove the cloud of fear hovering over illegal immigrants and allow them to join labor unions and other social services to avoid exploitation. The debate over illegal immigration is explosive, and complete amnesty is highly unpopular. However, that does not make it any less right; amnesty for illegal immigrants, – nothing less – is needed.