Random Musings
Thursday, January 08, 2004
Yahoo! News - Employers praise Bush's 'guest worker' plan: "President Bush (news - web sites)'s plan to offer legal status to millions of illegal immigrants working in the USA might mean a steadier labor supply for businesses who rely heavily on such employees. "

While I think this idea is basically a good one -- by making it easier for immigrant workers to be here legally it reduces the incentive to sneak into the country -- I'm concerned that a lot of the predictions for it are overestimated. I believe that a lot of the menial jobs "that Americans don't want" that are being done by illegal immigrants are being done in illegal working conditions. Below-minimum wage salaries, no health care, no OSHA supervision...

The announcements of this program have been accompanied by glowing promises of health care and retirement benefits and such for these immigrant workers. But I think a big part of the reason why people, especially in the agriculture and "grey market manufacturing" sectors hire illegal immigrants is because they work cheap, get paid under the table and don't get insurance and other benefits that are costly to the employers. Is it realistic to expect these employers to now gladly accept what may be significant increases in their labor costs -- or will they continue to seek out under-the-table workers who may well be undocumented?

This program is a good idea; not entirely unlike things I've advocated in the past ("Make it easier for them to come in legally") and it's the right thing to do as a matter of public policy and to improve our security. We shouldn't automatically assume that this is going to mean a life in suburbia for those workers, however.


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