Immigration: converting illegals to legals
In trying to design a new immigration policy for America, some fundamental geographic and economic factors must be faced:
First, the United States is a maritime nation whose continued prosperity depends on free trade pulsing through our ports and harbors located here and there along our 88,633 miles of shoreline. Secondly, we must also trade with Canada with whom we have 3,987 miles of border across the northern United States and with whom we share 1,538 miles of Alaskan border. Thirdly, we must trade with Mexico with whom we share 1,933 miles of border to our south.
Anyone who thinks the U.S. has the money and the manpower to seal off 7,458 miles of land border and 88,633 miles of shoreline must be smoking something illegal. The sealing of our borders to become a “fortress America” is not going to happen. Even if we withdrew all of our armed forces and spread them across our land borders and our coastlines, they would be too few. Moreover, that would violate the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 that forbids the enforcement of civil law by the military. But what can and should happen is to develop a guest worker program loosely modeled after the guest worker program used so successfully by the Federal Republic of Germany
While our United Auto Workers (UAW) Union won’t allow even documented aliens on its turf, we still might be able to learn something from Volkswagen. As soon as West Germany’s economy rebounded after World War II, the majority of the assembly work on Volkswagens was done by Italian, Turkish and Spanish guest workers who were invited by Volkswagen to come to Germany to work for a set period of time, and then go back home.
Under the original concept of the German guest worker program, the workers arrived without their families. The workers lived in company-provided barracks for a set amount of time – usually for six months. The factories shut down over the Christmas holidays to allow the workers to return home and be with their families.
For some guest workers, a contract of only a few month’s duration provided the monetary “stake” they needed to go back home and start their own businesses. Bachelors often agreed to series of longer contracts before going back home. But the key to the guest worker program was the understanding and expectation that the workers would not settle in Germany. They came. They worked. They were paid much more than they could make back home. They went back home to live.
With the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany, many of today’s “guest workers” are not really guests but ethnic Germans from the communism-impoverished former East Germany. But the concept remains valid. And, with some modifications, might be useful in solving America’s immigration problems.
Today, many Americans do not wash their own cars or do their own yard maintenance or do other low-tech, menial tasks. And, they have the money to hire it done.
This situation creates a business opportunity for the creation of car-washing companies, landscaping and yard maintenance companies, truck farmers, vintners, -- the list of low-tech, manual labor jobs is virtually endless. Here the federal government could play a role in matching willing American employers with willing guest workers in a pre-immigration agreement between employer and guest worker. Thus, the guest worker enters this country as a documented worker for a set period of time subject to renewal if worker and employer find that mutually agreeable.
Great nations that wish to remain great nations pick and chose those upon whom they confer citizenship. While legally employed here, we should encourage the best and brightest of the guest workers to apply for an immigration quota leading, perhaps, to full U.S. citizenship. That would help us build a vibrant and endlessly renewable America suited to the challenges of the 21st Century.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – novels about terrorist attacks on Colorado’s water supply and on the Panama Canal, respectively.
©2004. William Hamilton.