New guest worker program no
substitute for cracking down
By Mike Harpold
May 19 2006
In 1962, when I reported for my first assignment in the U.S.
Border Patrol at Calexico, California, a small border town at
the foot of the Imperial Valley, our borders were secure. I,
and my fellow officers, patrolled alone in a jeep at night through
miles of open desert, often not cutting sign on another human
in our assigned area of patrol for weeks at a time. We complained
about the boredom, but the quiet didn't last.
We had control over the border in those days because of the Bracero
Program, which allowed 450,000 Mexican laborers to enter the
U.S. each year to work on farms in the southwest that had contracted
for them. But in 1964,Congress, pressured by labor and church
groups, did not renew the Bracero Program. It was not replaced
by any new immigration enforcement measures, nor was our force
of 1,400 Border Patrol officers increased. Within two years our
border apprehensions grew from under 60,000 a year to over a
million. With the invasion of illegal workers, who often muled
drug loads, came drug smugglers and criminals. We were overwhelmed.
Through succeeding Republican and Democratic administrations,
we never regained control of the border.
At first glance, a new guest worker program as proposed by President
Bush on Monday night would seem to make sense. But if we are
serious about regaining control over our borders, we need to
look deeper. The old Bracero program was effective not because
it made previously illegal workers legal, but because of the
severe sanctions imposed on employers participating in the program
who hired an illegal alien.
In the early years of its existence, the Bracero Program was
little used because employers could and did hire illegal aliens
at a pittance instead of hiring Bracers who had to be paid a
wage established by law. Then, in 1954, four hundred Border Patrol
officers worked their way along the Mexican border from the Gulf
of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, over the course of a year repatriating
over 800,000 Mexican citizens to Mexico. An estimated 500,000
more left in advance of the Border Patrol operation.
Having lost their illegal workforce, growers were forced to hire
often the same workers back as legal Bracers, but there was a
caveat. If Border Patrol officers found even one illegal alien
employed by a grower, the grower lost not only the illegal alien,
but all of his Bracers, on the spot. As a consequence, no grower
dared hire an illegal alien. Without a job prospect, Mexicans
stopped coming across the border illegally.
The scope of the problem today far exceeds the problem that existed
fifty years ago, both in numbers of illegal aliens, area and
occupations impacted, and it is not likely that anything like
the Bracero program could be duplicated today. Further, whether
or not guest workers are a valid alternative to illegal aliens
is debatable. Fifty years ago the presence of both groups worked
to the disadvantage of American farm workers, mostly hispanic,
who lived along the border in squalor, differing little from
living conditions on the Mexican side of the border. On the plus
side, we would know who the guest worker is and have some control
over his stay. However, a new guest worker program cannot work
as long as employers are able to continue to hire an illegal
worker for less.
President Bush was careful to propose a secure identity card,
but only for guest workers. Equipping guest workers with a secure
ID does nothing to prevent an illegal alien using counterfeit
immigration and social security documents from seeking the same
job occupied by a guest worker. And an employer with his eyes
only on the bottom line is most likely to continue to prefer
the illegal worker. Establishing a new guest worker program will
not substitute for cracking down on document fraud and businesses
that hire illegal aliens.
Ketchikan, AK - USA
About: The author retired after
a 35 year career with the U.S. I&NS.
Note: Comments published
on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.
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