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Guest Worker Policy Win-Win Proposition For Migrants And US

by Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ)

It is common for those who are depressed with the current economic climate to wax nostalgic about the 1990s. What fails to make it into these recollections is the crucial contribution that immigrants, both legal and illegal, made in this remarkable growth period.

As we consider avenues to resuscitate our economy, we need to take a hard look at our immigration policies that have an indirect yet powerful influence.

Here in Arizona we are too familiar with the illegal immigrant population and the futile efforts of law enforcement officials to stem the tide. We fret about what to do, but a closer look at the number of crossings and apprehensions reveals that there is an obvious solution.

One percent of illegal immigrants apprehended are criminals, according to Border Patrol statistics. If we assume these statistics reflect the demographics of all the people crossing the border illegally, then 1 percent of illegal crossers are likely to be criminals or terrorists.

If we establish a legal structure for the current flow of immigrants who enter the United States to work in jobs for which no U.S. citizen is available, we will shift 99 percent of the crossings from anywhere along the 6,000-mile northern and southern land borders to a few ports of entry, where we can manage it.

This change in policy would allow the Border and Transportation Security Directorate to focus its border resources on the criminals and terrorists, drastically improving the security of our nation.

For example, here in Arizona there were 375,516 apprehensions last year. If we assume the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection catches one in four crossers (which is a conservative estimate), then 1.5 million people came through Arizona illegally last year, of which an estimated 15,000 were drug smugglers or terrorists. The rest enter the country for one reason alone: jobs.

Jobs that no American wants or will accept.

For too long, the sheer numbers of illegal crossers have suggested that secure land borders with Mexico and Canada are illusive. However, an improvement in our immigration policies would drastically change that. With this in mind, I have been working with other members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, to draft legislation for an enhanced foreign temporary worker program to improve homeland security. I believe such legislation is critical to securing our borders.

A temporary worker program, commonly known as a guest worker program, would reduce the number of illegal border crossers who enter through Arizona and free up the Homeland Security Department to manage more successfully the remaining fraction of illegal immigrants who enter the United States for criminal intent.

Of particular concern to southern Arizonans, a temporary worker program would significantly reduce the destruction of property, strain on our health care facilities, litter on our lands, redirection of law enforcement efforts away from local crime, and saturation of our local court system with federally related cases.

A comprehensive temporary worker legislation has not been easy to draft. I began working on this last summer, and have faced many hurdles attempting to satisfy legitimate concerns. There will be compromise, as indeed the drafting of all legislation requires, but I am committed to move this matter forward. A temporary worker program must not displace American workers, must provide business with access to workers if none exists domestically, and must ensure that workers are protected from abusive employers.

Each summer, the deaths of illegal crossers in the harsh Arizona desert have painted a vivid human picture of the need for change. The high temperatures are quickly approaching, and soon we will be reminded on a daily basis that reforming our immigration policy is a life-or-death issue.

As our economy continues in the doldrums, many Americans are unemployed. But our economy is cyclical. Soon there will be an upsurge in job growth, and we will face a return of the low unemployment rate that existed for most of the 1990s. At that time many industries in the United States, including agriculture, tourism, construction, nursing, information technology and other portions of the service sector, experienced labor shortages, hampering further economic growth.

If we are to avoid a repeat performance, we must look long term and acknowledge that a flexible temporary worker program will guard us against future worker shortages. According to a Northwestern University study published in December, the civilian labor force grew by 11.5 percent, and "had it not been for new immigration, the nation's labor force would have grown by only 5 percent over the past decade and would have seriously constrained both job growth and economic growth."

On immigration we have been speaking from both sides of our mouths - from one, we remind the rest of the world that we have made great strides as a nation due in large part to the fact that we are a nation of immigrants, and that any citizen who tries hard enough can rise from rags to riches. But at the same time, the words that come from the other side of the mouth claim foreigners are to be blamed for most of what's wrong in this country.

I look forward to working with the many people in Arizona and the nation to improve the security of our borders and stop the unmanageable and destructive flow of millions of people illegally crossing through our back yards. There are no quick and easy legislative actions - if there were, it would have been done already. But I am committed to try.

About The Author

Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) is a US Congressman from the eighth Congressional District in Southern Arizona.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.