Documenting the Workers

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimated in 2010 that over 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants reside in the United States. Undocumented workers are a specific group among unauthorized immigrants who have generally been upstanding residents in every way, other than the manner in which they entered the nation. For obvious reasons, the number of unauthorized immigrants who are undocumented workers cannot be accurately assessed. These workers have become an integral part of our American society. Factories, home builders, and agriculture are just a few of the industries that have become heavily reliant on those willing to fill labor intensive roles for pay that allows those businesses to stay competitive. Regardless of individual opinion, the average American’s standard of living is largely enabled by foreign workers.

Over the last ten years the issue has become mainstream, an issue elected officials would refer to as a “kitchen table” conversation that takes place in the average American home. Elected officials at the federal, state, and local level from both major parties have offered varying solutions to the issue, but none seem interested in the potential unpopularity that could result from facing the problem directly. The varying philosophies regarding the most ethical manner in which this should be addressed is not as clear as many politicians would like their supporters to believe. Solutions have been offered by office seekers ranging from full amnesty to deportation. Nearly every potential resolution agrees on the basic framework that enforcement of current laws and more adequate control of America’s borders is necessary. Where the plans differ is what should be done to those already living in the United States. Answers have ranged from amnesty to deportation. Realistically, a much simpler (and less dehumanizing) solution could be offered that would meet lawmakers in the center ideologically and potentially solve the problem universally; introduction of a Migrant Guest Worker’s Visa.

Currently, the manner in which a foreign worker obtains a visa can open the door for mistreatment by the employer. The worker must have a job offer from a specific employer to be permitted entry. Migrant workers do not have the option of switching jobs, if the company decides to treat that person unfairly. He is forced to either accept the conditions or risk being sent back home unemployed and unofficially “blacklisted” from future opportunities in America.

President George W. Bush proposed a guest worker program that provided a temporary plan to address the issue, but it failed due to being politically demonized by members of both the Republican and Democrat parties. Perhaps the most recent U.S. President successful in taking action toward addressing the issue of undocumented workers was Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s “Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986” placed strict sanctions on employers who hired illegal immigrants in the future and legalized many of the undocumented workers who had been productive in the national economy prior to 1982.  Although largely praised as a theoretical solution to the main problems presented by undocumented workers, Reagan’s law was never enforced in reality. It’s worth noting that our current President, Barack Obama, has offered an ideologically similar discussion, “Building a 21st Century Immigration System,” but is meeting resistance from the same individuals who laud Reagan’s heritage. Apparently, solutions are only suitable to partisan politicians when their respective mascot is attached to the plan.

Ron Paul is a 2012 GOP Presidential candidate whose immigration policy includes the staples of more stringent border control and revocation of birthright citizenship, but his plan does not provide for amnesty. His campaign website states, “…granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants will only encourage more law breaking.” Paul’s website further states, “it [the federal government] continues to push mandates on the states to provide free education and medical care to illegal immigrants at a time when the states are drowning in debt. This must not be tolerated any longer.” He believes that illegal immigration will slow when there are no welfare benefits to attract them. Ron Paul’s immigration plan does address the major concerns of future determent, but it fails to clarify what would happen to those currently residing and working in America. One could assume that if his policy is not to grant citizenship, then it must be deportation. The last time deportation was attempted on a mass scale was in 1953 and called “Operation Wetback;” the number of deportations wasn’t very impressive.

So what is the solution? Neither amnesty nor deportation attempts have proven effective. Human trafficking also factors into the equation as cause for concern regarding the dignity with which we treat these people. There are many undocumented workers in America who are here against their will, but would like the opportunity to live freely. Should the government simply ship them back to their country of origin? Or, is there a more modern and humane solution to this problem?

An interesting report from Fordham Law School entitled “Towards Transnational Labor Citizenship: Restructuring Labor Migration to Reinforce Workers’ Rights” offers a review of emerging policies and perspectives regarding international cooperation for migrant workers. Although the review is largely agenda-driven toward benefiting labor unions, its basic premise is valid. Commerce is no longer locally centered, it is global. Creating a visa that allows partnership between nations solely for the purpose of more humane working conditions is not simply an issue that may arise, it must be discussed.

A third option rather than amnesty or deportation could be presented in the form of a “Migrant Guest Worker’s Visa.” If a citizen of Mexico (or any other nation) wants to work in America he would apply for the visa, submit to a background check, and prove his citizenship. If the potential worker passes the qualifications, then he could search for a position with a company in America. Under this program he would pay applicable taxes, and be treated fairly under employment laws (IE: minimum wage, discrimination). The Migrant Guest Worker Program would entitle the worker to emergency medical treatment, but disqualify that person for unemployment benefits, Social Security, and other welfare benefits (since he is in the country to work). If the holder of the visa would like to become a U.S Citizen, he would still be submitted to the same process as if he were living in his home country. The person’s immediate family would also be permitted to live with him and he would be able to freely cross the border to return to his home country. After the first year the migrant guest worker would be reviewed, then every three years afterward.

The Migrant Guest Worker’s Visa would be mutually beneficial to that of American businesses and of foreigners desiring to work in America, supplying a resource to the demand. If there were not such a market for this type of person, the problem would not exist. Undocumented workers will not simply disappear, therefore government leaders must come to a resolution that is both beneficial and humane. The borders of America should definitely be secured and illegal immigration laws strictly enforced; but, in the process of doing so, it is important that the nation not lose touch with one of its greatest ideals: compassion for humanity.

Published by David Moscrip

David Moscrip lives in Tampa, Florida with his wife and three children. He writes and produces music, attends Knox Seminary, and leads worship at his church.

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