Immigration III

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

January 27, 2004


            After two columns about immigration, I realize that this is a hot button topic. I have received more letters and e-mails on this, than on any other topic.

            In my first column in September of 2003, I wrote about the schizophrenia of our society on the issue of illegal workers. We employ them in large numbers, but we say we don’t want them. This puts both illegal employees and employers in an impossible situation.

In October of 2003, I ventured four suggestions on what might be done about the problem of illegal migrant workers.

My first recommendation was for a  “guest worker” visa program to legalize the status of undocumented workers. This would allow the millions of illegal workers to regularize their status in the U.S. and would allow employers to bring people here to work for an extended length of time.

In January of 2004, less than two months after that column ran, President Bush proposed a guest worker program.

My column had nothing to do with his plan, but it does show that the idea is in the wind. Many people have recognized this fact. (In December of 2003, CNN ran a series on immigration called “Broken Borders”.)

President Bush merely accepted economic and geographic reality.

Economically the reality is that there are about 7 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. If they were all sent home tomorrow, some industries here would come to a halt.

Geographically the reality is that most of the illegal workers in the U.S. come from Mexico. Our southern border is too long and too easily crossed to effectively seal it. As long as there is grinding poverty there and jobs here, people will migrate. Like the tide, we cannot stop it.

Under President Bush’s program, guest workers could get a three-year visa if they have employment lined up before they come here.  If they are already here, workers could get a visa if they are employed and if they pay a fine. These visas could be renewed for a second three-year term. After that workers are supposed to go home, though it is anybody’s guess how this could be enforced. Employers are permitted to bring in guest workers if they can show that Americans could not be found for these jobs.

The President’s plan solves some problems. It gives legal status to workers from Mexico. It makes them taxpayers and social security recipients. It allows law enforcement to concentrate on real criminals at the border (like drug smugglers). It might end the illegal traffic in human beings. It would allow migrants to go home for visits. (Some of my parishioners have not been able to go home for funerals of parents.)

But the President’s idea does not address the reason why people want to leave Mexico and come here, poverty.

We need to do what the European Union did for its poor neighbors. We need a 20year long economic development program that would build infrastructure and raise wages and living standards in Mexico. Then there would be less pressure to come here. It would be in our self- interest to have a more prosperous Mexico.

President Bush promotes globalization of the economy. But we need to “globalize” in ways that conservatives never consider, especially in regard to fair labor standards.

Every free trade agreement should have basic labor standards. This should include a right to organize workers freely and to bargain collectively. Unions should be allowed to organize across borders so that employers could not move jobs from Michigan to Monterey to exploited vulnerable workers. There should also be a global push for a living wage.

 If countries want to sell their products in the U.S. they should have fair labor standards to put all workers on a more level playing field.  

            The guest worker proposal of President Bush is a good first step. But it chiefly answers the demands of large employers here for cheap labor. It does not address the long-term causes of this migration.