Immigration Pearl Harbor?
by DCDave

Here is the one article, that we know of, that has appeared in the popular press expressing some objection to the proposed massive expansion of the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. It is a sober, academic-type piece that reflects the consensus of experts on immigration that guestworker programs increase illegal immigration.

What is really interesting about it is the way in which it has been employed by the ostensibly conservative Washington Times. It looks to us as though The Times has employed the pure "bump and run" technique that we refer to in "Truth Suppression". The article is good from a purely educational standpoint and to help The Times burnish its image with its readers as a newspaper concerned about growing legal and illegal immigration, a trend that is producing an increasing fragmentation of our society, but it is hardly a call to action. There is no sense of immediacy in the article. It appeared on August 10, 1998, but who knows when it was submitted?

The article begins, "Congress once again is considering legislation to create a new temporary agricultural worker program." The reader would never guess that when these words appeared Congress had already gone well past the consideration stage. The Senate, on July 23, had quietly tacked onto a huge appropriations bill, by a vote of 68-31-1, an amendment to expand greatly the existing guestworker program in spite of the complete lack of evidence of any need for it. If Ms. Martin had submitted her article before the actual vote took place, it was the responsibility of the newspaper to make sure that it was still timely when they printed it, and it is clear that they did not do so. If one were dependent on this newspaper or any newspaper or other news outlet for news of the existence of this potential immigration Pearl Harbor, one would simply be out of luck. News reports and editorials, alike, have been notable by their complete absence.

The article is also remiss in that it leaves us with the impression that what is being proposed is a brand new guestworker program, though it does begin the last paragraph with the sentence, "An expanded guestworker program is an idea whose time has not yet and perhaps never will come." By ignoring the existing program, Ms. Martin passes up the very best argument for how the proposed program will be abused and illegal immigration stimulated. All she needed to do was to describe how the existing, much smaller program is being abused and illegal immigration stimulated.

That is what I do in my previous article at "Pat Buchanan, Where Are You?", though there is still ample room for one of our professed journalists to flesh out the story by interviewing some of the people on the front lines of this losing battle. In my previous article I also describe how two of our many "interest groups" might have been expected to fill the vacuum left by such publications as The Washington Times by sounding the alarm over this huge new illegal immigration threat. But these would-be watchdogs have been surprisingly--one might say suspiciously--silent. So muzzled have they been in the face of this enormous threat that the terms "phony front" and "fake right" can hardly avoid slipping into our consciousness. This is a phenomenon that I explore in some specific detail in Part 5 of "America's Dreyfus Affair, the Case of the Death of Vincent Foster".

Taken all in all, the federal government's war against illegal immigration is beginning to resemble its war against illegal drugs more with every day that passes. On the one hand, it is spending increasing sums and curtailing our liberties more and more, supposedly to fight the problem. On the other hand, with all the money to be made, it is either in the business itself or it is passing legislation like the NAFTA and the expanded H-2A which provide aid and comfort for those who are in the business.

Here, now, is the promised article from The Washington Times, August 10, 1998:

by Susan F. Martin
Director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration
Georgetown University

Congress once again is considering legislation to create a new temporary agricultural worker program. From an immigration viewpoint, such a program would be a "grievous mistake," to quote the final report of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform. An expanded agricultural guestworker program will likely increase illegal immigration, undermining Congress's own attempts to gain control over the U.S. border, while doing little to address long-term issues in agricultural labor markets.

That a guestworker program will increase illegal migration might appear counter-intuitive, but decades of experience in the United States and elsewhere prove the point. Proponents of an expanded guestworker program argue that legal migrants will replace the now-illegal farmworkers who are estimated to form 50 percent or more of the workforce in perishable-crop agriculture. The argument runs as follows: if illegal aliens can find legal work in agriculture, they will sign up as temporary workers, return home when the growing season is over, and reenter the following year when needed once more.

Unfortunately, this rosy scenario represents a gross misunderstanding of migration. Most of the estimated five million illegal aliens now work in urban labor markets, not in agriculture. Even more to the point, illegal aliens who begin in agriculture often move on to more stable or lucrative work in manufacturing, services, construction, landscaping and other low-skill industries. The more likely scenario if there is an expanded guestworker program is as follows: migrants will enter legally via the guestworker program, some will return home at the end of the growing season but a sizeable number will move into urban centers and remain within the U.S. Even if a part of the worker's wages are withheld until return, as has been proposed, migrants will quickly see that year-round employment in the United States will more than offset any lost wages. Those now willing to pay smugglers a hefty fee to reach Los Angeles, Chicago or New York will have a less expensive and less risky way to gain initial entry into the United States.

At the same time, agribusiness need for workers will not have been met. Hence, the next year, new temporary workers will be recruited to fill in for those who have moved to urban centers. Since would-be migrants in traditional sending areas already have networks established to help them enter the U.S. and find jobs in U.S. businesses, the recruitment will likely seek out new areas. This process occurred during the Bracero program in the 1950s when recruiters oriented many Mexican migrants toward the U.S. job market instead of towards local jobs and economic opportunities. When the Bracero program ended, the migration continued after the networks were established. A new guestworker program is likely to create a migration tradition in communities that have not previously had one.

It is perhaps a truism, but experience dictates that there is nothing more permanent than a temporary worker program. Business cycles may change, and the need for workers may wax and wane, but the migrants remain. The Seasonal Agricultural Worker program legalized about 1.1 million farm workers with the expectation that most would remain as seasonal employees in agriculture. Instead, most SAWs appear to have left agriculture, established permanent residence in U.S. cities, and petitioned for the legal admission of their families. Their jobs in agriculture have been filled by illegal aliens who are in precisely the situation the SAWs were in prior to legalization. The German experience with its Turkish and Yugoslavian guestworker was much the same.

After actively recruiting workers during the 1960s, Germany called an end to the program when the 1973 oil crisis curtailed industrial growth. Instead of compliantly returning, however, millions of guestworkers and their families remained in Germany, having established social, economic and other ties to their new homeland. To paraphrase one German observer, "we recruited workers but people came."

If the United States already had effective enforcement against illegal entry and overstay, and agribusiness could demonstrate an actual shortage of workers (neither of which is now true), perhaps a new agricultural worker program would be justified. Even then, however, other options should be carefully considered before risking the renewal of illegal migration. Although national unemployment rates are low, there is significant unemployment and underemployment in the very places that perishable crop agriculture is located. For example, Fresno, Merced, and Modesto, California all have double-digit unemployment. Improved wages and working conditions could attract already resident workers to farm jobs without driving prices to levels that American consumers cannot afford.

Increased mechanization could also address labor shortages that may result form more effective immigration enforcement. Farmers have been unwilling to invest in labor-saving machinery because of the widespread availability of cheap labor. Yet, agricultural sectors that have bitten the mechanization bullet have weaned themselves from dependence on foreign labor.

An expanded guestworker program is an idea whose time has not yet and perhaps never will come. Congress should heed the conclusions of a joint U.S.-Mexican study on migration between the two countries: "The United States and Mexico should study carefully the concept of a bilateral foreign worker program, recognizing that such a program is unlikely to be an effective remedy to unauthorized migration or to have sufficient standards to protect the rights of workers. a guestworker program could stimulate new migration networks, adding to, rather than substituting for, unauthorized workers."

I have only one further quibble with the article. Ms. Martin says that with this new guestworker program, "Those now willing to pay smugglers a hefty fee to reach Los Angeles, Chicago or New York will have a less expensive and less risky way to gain initial entry into the United States."

As we have previously pointed out, since there is already an H-2A guestworker program in operation they already DO have a less risky way to gain entry. But precisely because it is less risky, both reason and experience tell us that for the workers it is not less but more expensive than being illegally smuggled. Because it is more desirable, labor contractors can charge more for the service. That's where the big money is to be made; that is at the heart of the corruption.

David Martin
October 6, 1998

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