When Mexican president Felipe Calderon came to Washington, D.C., in mid-May he had plenty of issues to talk about: trade, border issues, the war against the drug cartels, and, yes, immigration.

Sticking with immigration status quo won’t work

Larry Waterfield
Columnist

He talked to President Obama and the entire U.S. Congress.

He was too diplomatic to say the obvious: “You norteamericanos can’t seem to deal with anything with the word illegal attached to it: your demand for illegal drugs, a reasonable law dealing with illegal immigration.”

The fact is the immigration issue is so full of controversy, so prone to divide people, that no one knows how to solve it. Look at the controversial Arizona state law just passed. It has spawned calls for boycotts, yet polls say the public supports it.

The trouble is, almost no one supports a comprehensive new federal immigration law. Everyone supports some part of it.

In remarks to the media and Calderon, President Obama condemned the Arizona law, called for secure borders and comprehensive reform, a crackdown on employers, and said that Mexicans come north seeking a better future.

He called for a program to allow illegals to stay in the U.S. by paying fines and learning English. He made no mention of special worker programs, such as a guest workers.

That’s a bad sign.

Everyone has an opinion on the subject, but some opinions are more important than others. If you want to know what American business, food and agriculture think of immigration reform, a good place to start is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber is the giant of business lobbying, with a budget of $144 million. It represents 3 million businesses, 96% of which have fewer than 100 employees.

It also represents business giants, and dozens of major associations for restaurants, supermarkets, farming, food handling and marketing, trucking, you name it.

Tom Donohue, the president, used to run the American Trucking Associations. He knows plenty about U.S. agriculture and food shipping and marketing.

As he notes, the chamber’s policies and positions are formed by the membership. He says we need a guest worker program for temporary and seasonal workers, including farmworkers, and a way to deal with the millions of illegals already here, including a path to permanent status.

“We need these workers,” he says. “We don’t have people to do the work.”

And while that is true — these workers do a lot of dirty, sweaty, unpleasant jobs — it’s a harder sell when unemployment is high and the economy is climbing out of recession.

Critics, and they are many, will claim these workers are exploited. Let’s examine that. Mexico has made economic progress, yet 40% of its people live in poverty, with many living on $5 a day.

In the U.S. a worker in even the most menial job can earn $50 a day and often much more. Do the math. A lot of young and even middle-aged Mexicans head north. Who can blame them? They have nothing to lose.

A guest worker program, which has worked in other places, would bring order to the process, save lives, help Mexico, help U.S. business and agriculture, and allow Mexicans to return home with money and skills to build their own communities.

Everybody wins.

But labor unions and doctrinaire Democrats always return to the exploitation theme, and claim a workers’ program hurts U.S. workers, pulls down wages and costs jobs.

But as Donohue points out, American farmers are already moving operations into Mexico and elsewhere to find labor. You can’t save jobs by destroying jobs.

Any part of immigration reform brings loud protests from someone. Many Americans oppose the idea of putting illegal aliens already here on a path to citizenship or permanent status. To them it looks like a reward for breaking the law.

Guest workers would remain citizens of their own country, but would receive basic protections as “guests.” Critics of that solution say, “They won’t go back to Mexico.”

They will if they are given incentives to go home.

The immigration issue can be solved, if there is a will, leadership and an ability to put the nation’s interest above political gain.

That’s a tall order these days. There is always an election coming up, so the instinct is to put things off until the political climate or public opinion improves.

That won’t happen on immigration.

The immigration laws could be reformed, with some leadership and some compromises.

But there are people already here doing the work, so why rock the boat? There are plenty of people who like the status quo.

E-mail lww4@verizon.net

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