Guestworkers Who Overstay Their Welcome

Trying to catch up on the pundits’ most recent prognostications for “immigration reform”, I came across a February 5 article in Politico titled “Immigration reform’s other hurdle”.

The gist of the article can be found in its lede: “The Republican divide on whether undocumented immigrants can become citizens is consuming most of the headlines. But there’s a trickier issue at play that ultimately could prove to be a bigger stumbling block for immigration reform: a guestworker program for future immigrants.” House Republicans apparently are not in accord with the guestworker program numbers contained in the infamous Gang of Eight bill passed by the Senate last June.

Among those quoted in the article is Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.): “‘We don’t know why [guestworkers] should be a difficult issue,’ said Yarmuth, encapsulating the thinking among Democrats. ‘When you’ve got labor and the U.S. Chamber agreeing … it seems to me that it shouldn’t be tough.'”

I could hardly believe my eyes. This is the kind of out-of-touch thinking that should jerk Rep. Yarmuth’s constituency awake with a sharp snap of the neck. What about your unemployed or underemployed Kentuckians, Mr. Yarmuth? Do they count for nothing?

We know that the Chamber of Commerce’s interests are those of big business, not of American workers, but what of unions? Do they represent run-of-the-mill American workers? They do not.

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics press release from last month, wage and salary workers who were union members made up a mere 11.3 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2013. And according to a 2011 New York Timesarticle titled “Union Membership in U.S. Fell to a 70-Year Low Last Year”, that percentage has been in sharp decline for years.

It’s also important to remember that, of the 11.3 percent of workers who are union members, not all are legally in the United States. Some unions — the Service Employees International Union being a prime, but not singular, example — are composed of a significant number of members who have no legal right to work. And this is the key reason why unions are pushing amnesty and guestworker programs of every ilk: They hope to enlarge their membership, recapture their percentage of the workforce, and reinvigorate their fading political prowess.

A third point to consider: Although jobless rates in Kentucky fell during calendar year 2013, a headline in the January 30, 2014, Park City Daily News stated “Most area counties’ jobless rate higher than national average”.

The Daily News is right: The average unemployment rate in the United States was 6.7 percent, whereas Kentucky’sunemployment rate was 8.0 percent in December 2013.

Finally, when we consider guestworker programs generally, it’s instructive to think of the example of Germany, which began a grand experiment along those lines in the 1960s and 1970s. Many, perhaps most, of the guest workers who entered the country at that time were from Turkey. They were provided no “pathway to citizenship”, which of course makes sense in that the essence of program was its temporary nature. But what happens if they just don’t go home?

Did this “no path to citizenship” limitation encourage guestworkers in Germany to abide by the conditions of the program or to depart when required? It did not. Instead, it ultimately resulted in sharp divisions in German culture about the propriety of a double standard in which large classes of individuals who had initially come as temporary workers and then refused to go home were denied the opportunity to integrate and become citizens.

When we think of temporary worker programs in the American context, it’s important to remember that nearly half of the 11 to 12 million aliens illegally in the United States at present were initially admitted legally and then simply overstayed their visas and melted into the woodwork.

If the House of Representatives were to naively follow the path laid out for them by unions and the Chamber of Commerce, rather than seeing things through their own eyes, they and the Senate would be planting the seed for athird demand for amnesty a couple of decades hence. Because — make no mistake — once here our guests will almost certainly overstay their welcome.

Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.

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