At long last, a start.
That’s all it is, but far better than the petty bickering, name calling and thinly disguised hatred that has dominated the discussion of immigration for too long. Our horrid, dysfunctional, nonsensical, counterproductive immigration system desperately needs reform of the liberal sort, in the classical understanding of the word — favoring freedom and individual initiative. We have far to go before that comes true, but with a bipartisan coalition of eight senators rushing their reform plan into the public eye this week, followed immediately by a plan from an openly sympathetic president of the United States, there is hope in the air. It’s just talk so far, but better than we’ve done in two decades.
Reactions are what you would expect. They already call this “amnesty”:
From the senators — “Individuals with probationary legal status will be required to go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants, pass an additional background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate history of work in the United States and current employment, among other requirements, in order to earn the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency. Those individuals who successfully compete these requirements can eventually earn a green card.”
From President Obama — “Undocumented immigrants must come forward to register, submit biometric data, pass criminal background and national security checks and pay fees and penalties before they will be eligible for provisional legal status. … Consistent with current law, people with provisional legal status will be not be eligible for welfare or other federal benefits, including subsidies or tax credits under the new health care law.”
It’s not amnesty. It’s more like voluntary purgatory, with years under “provisional” status waiting for an “opportunity” to “eventually” win a green card. Even so, that’s not the section of reform with the greatest potential impact on lives and livelihoods in North Central Washington. Key will be what provisions are made for agricultural labor. The senators and president say they want secure borders. They both insist on some kind of electronic screening, such as the E-verify system, to ensure new workers are legal. Both say they will penalize employers who hire illegal aliens. By themselves these provisions would eliminate three-quarters of the agricultural workforce.
The Senate proposal includes an acknowledgment of the impact of immigration policy on agriculture, and offers workers an incentive. “Agricultural workers who commit to the long-term stability of our nation’s agricultural industries will be treated differently than the rest of the undocumented population … ” It would “create a workable program” to “find agricultural workers when American workers are not available to fill open positions.” This language has earned an early endorsement from agricultural organizations promoting new guest worker program.
President Obama’s proposal says nothing about a guest worker program and mentions agricultural workers only in passing. Last year Obama indicated support for some kind of guest worker program but in 2007 he opposed it. Opponents of a new guest worker plan already are stepping up, questioning if it could function or whether it will just convert farm workers into indentured servants.
Presume that many post-reform farm workers would have provisional status and pass the mandatory electronic checks. But these people eventually move on. Without a guest worker program with incentives, we will face accelerating labor shortages and subsequent economic damage. Hope that the good negotiators in Washington consider these ramifications.
Tracy Warner’s column appears Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at email@example.com or 665-1163.