Conservatives push guest worker program to halt illegal immigration

By Yaël Ossowski |

easy way to fix the convoluted immigration system in the United
States entails making it easier for foreigners to be hired, without a
lot of red tape in their way.

Even the 8.1 million illegal immigrants now in the workforce.

That, at least, was the consensus of the five witnesses convened to present at the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs last week.

worry about a government that would criminalize the rational activity
of someone selling their labor to improve their condition, and another
who buys labor in order to make a profit — which is what our current
immigration law does,” said Daniel Garza, executive director of the
LIBRE Initiative, a free market organization representing Latinos. “I
fear a growing government that hinders economic growth, that restricts

He was joined by experts from Pew Research Center,
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Enterprise Institute and the
Migration Policy Institute, who were all united behind the idea of
expanding the existing guest worker program as a means to trigger
economic growth and fix the nation’s immigration problems.

committee hearing chaired by Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from
Wisconsin, was called “Securing the Border: Defining the Current
Population Living in the Shadows and Addressing Future Flows.“ It
focused more on reforming the visa programs than border controls,
demonstrating a shift in the conservative examination of immigration.

meeting was marked by a united front by the conservative-leaning panel
of witnesses, coming from industry, academia and activism.

what was needed for Congress to solve the illegal immigration crisis,
Randel Johnson, a vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, pulled
no punches. "It’s a combination of an expanded temporary worker
programs and a sensible pathway to legalization,” he testified.

emphasized that it must be easier for companies to hire immigrants to
provide for the best educated and skilled employees to compete in the
global marketplace.

The U.S. has the largest guest worker program
in the world, made up of the H-2A and H-2B visas, which allow employers
to temporarily hire foreign workers.

But even with the largest
guest worker program in the world, the U.S. also has the distinction of
having the largest illegal immigrant population in the world, according
to the Migration Policy Institute, which makes for an interesting

That’s made worse by the fact there has been no
significant immigration reform since at least 1996, when stricter
policies were enacted and helped bulk up immigration enforcement instead
of solving the problem of the growing population of undocumented

“Immigration enforcement has cost the U.S. government
over $208 billion since 2001,” Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the
Migration Policy Institute, said at the committee hearing. “It spends
more on immigration enforcement than any other federal criminal law
enforcement activities combined.”

Senator Johnson, the committee
chairman, generally agreed with the witnesses, but he remained skeptical
about whether accepting larger numbers of immigrants and legalizing
those already in the country would hurt the native workforce.

is a dispute as to whether undocumented workers have or haven’t
depressed wages,” said Johnson, citing a case from a California energy
company looking to hire technicians from outside the United States.

His question was immediately addressed and downplayed.

bulk of studies unquestionably find that there is almost no effect,”
said Madeline Zavodny, economics professor at Agnes Scott College and an
adjunct scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
“There is no zero-sum number of jobs. When immigrants come, jobs also
get created.”

She was unequivocal in her support for expanding a
guest worker program to help not just immigrants but also native workers

“To protect native workers from unfair competition,
we need to allow guest workers to move to employers who want to hire
them and want to offer higher wages to have them,” said Madeline
Zavodny, economics professor at Agnes Scott College and an adjunct
scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

This positive take on immigration reform is rising not just among conservative economists and activists but also among the potential top GOP candidates for president, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

“But we’ve got to have a healthy balance. We’re a country both of immigrants and of laws,” Walker told ABC News in February. “We can’t ignore the laws in this country, can’t ignore the people who come in, whether it’s from Mexico or Central America.

That hasn’t translated over to the majority of Americans, however, as a Gallup poll from as late as January revealed that 60 percent of Americans
say they are “dissatisfied with the level of immigration into the
country today.” That’s a significant drop from the nearly 75 percent who
felt the same in 2008, yet it still represents a sense of hostility to
immigrants by most Americans.

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