Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Illegal Immigration: Guest Workers vs. Amnesty

If Michael Barone is right (as Joe suggested below) and the time is ripe for some sort of immigration omnibus bill, I hope some consideration--some deep consideration--will be given to the work of Victor Davis Hanson in this piece from the Claremont Review of Books and elsewhere. He is the only author I have seen who seems to grasp the fullness of the human problem at the heart of the immigration debate. And he’s not afraid of the tough questions or the tough answers. For example:

In some sense, guest workers are far more destabilizing than a one-time amnesty. The former constantly enlarges the number of exploited and soon to be disillusioned aliens; the latter ends it. The prohibition of bilingual government documents and services, and of a racially chauvinistic and separatist curriculum in our schools and universities, would also send a powerful message that one should not come north unless he is willing to become a full-fledged American in every linguistic, cultural, and political sense of the word.

In other words, he wonders if amnesty--though hugely unpopular--isn’t in reality a better solution than an on-going "guest worker" program because "guest worker" would only extend and exaccerbate the problems associated with illegal immigration. Of course, we would have to be serious about the amnesty being a one-time thing and the border would have to be tightened up in a serious way first. Hanson takes seriously the need to assimilate immigrants in a way that few other commentators have. If you haven’t looked as his work on this subject, you should. As I recall, he also had a great essay published on this subject awhile ago in Hillsdale College’s Imprimis.

Update: Yes, he did. Here it is.

Discussions - 5 Comments

Julie puts her finger right on the problem, but in a way that reveals precisely why you’d have to be pretty gullible to think amnesty is any kind of solution, when she says:

"Of course, we would have to be serious about the amnesty being a one-time thing"

Just like we did in 1986, right? Or is it that this time, we really, really mean it?

Please, you’ve got to be kidding.

It doesn’t take an Abraham Lincoln to see the problem here, does it? You know, the part about belief in impunity for crimes, alienation of the virtuous, etc.? Presumably, this doesn’t need to be spelled out for visitors of NLT.

An excellent point in comment 1. Republicans can’t pretend that this will be the last time given our history and continuing inability to control the border. The only solution is shut down the border, deport all illegals, and then after these two steps are complete liberalize our legal channels of immigration. All immigrants/guest workers should be forced to pay for their own health exams and vaccines too.

Lastly guest workers are not exploited. They choose to come and may choose to leave.

Clint assumes that my anti-amnesty comment is the equivalent of a pro-deportation comment. This is not so. Mass round-ups of illegals, or whatever kind of direct force it would take to effect deportation, seem rather infeasble and even intolerable. There is no doubt it is a difficult problem. I recently posted the comments of a former colleague, Bob Sasseen, over at the Claremont Institute’s blog. This is what he has to say about the practical issue here, and I find his argument sensible, if not altogether satisfactory:


"A policy of interdiction alone won’t prevent the waves of illegals from coming in, any more than it has stopped the traffic in illegal drugs. We need a policy that will remove, or greatly decrease the INCENTIVES and REWARDS of coming or staying here illegally. These incentives or rewards include jobs, US citizenship for the children of illegals born here, education, and access to our health care and welfare systems. We must enforce the laws against employing illegal immigrants, and perhaps raise the penalty on employers who do so. We must also decrease the incentives which lead politicians, political parties, and their partisans to tolerate, or even to aid and abet illegal immigration. No one should be allowed to vote in any election on any level without solid proof of citizenship. Perhaps no illegal should ever be eligible for citizenship. ( Perhaps not even his children unto the third or fourth generation.) No amnesty. That merely encourages ever more illegal immigration. The point is to create enough disincentives to induce the illegals currently here voluntarily to go back, and to discourage anyone from coming or staying here illegally in the future."

I agree with R.J.’s point and I would remind him that I did not say that I favor amnesty either--just that Hanson seems to think (persuasively, I thought) that it could be less bad than a guest worker program. A guest worker program perpetuates all of the worst of the social ills that illegal immigration brings. It makes assimilation more and more difficult, if not impossible. I would certainly be in favor of a plan that would deny citizenship and especially voting rights to anyone who did not go through the proper channels coming here to begin with. I would also be in favor of a plan that required those here illegally now to return and come back through those channels if they want citizenship--perhaps even pay a substantial fine. We should, and very easily could, put an immediate stop to the granting of citizenship to babies born to all legal or illegal aliens. Citizenship of children should depend upon the citizenship of their parents--that seems simple enough to me. On the other hand, mass deportations are a delusion--and as R.J. rightly points out, you don’t have to favor amnesty to acknowledge that. The question, then, is what to do with these millions who won’t go home? What Sasseen proposes is a good place to begin thinking about it, but I think much more thought needs to be given to the best ways to achieve assimilation.

Julie, your comment about the assimilation problem with a guest-worker program is well taken. I have never liked the idea of a guest-worker program, but I guess I have become almost resigned to it lately as a deal that will have to be made in order to get any kind of crackdown on illegal immigration. Partly, I suppose you could deal with the question by structuring the program in a prudent way. But ultimately, the real problem with immigration is inculcating the proper sense of citizenship, and a guest-worker program certainly won’t help there.

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