Memo To The President: Nothing Is More Permanent Than Temporary Workers
January 11, 2002, 04:00 AM
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Our political élite is as devoted as ever—despite the events of September 11, 2001—to the ongoing abolition of America by continuing mass immigration. Hence the new "amnesty" plan to legalize three million or more illegal aliens. Amnesty proponents have seized on a "guest worker" program as the most politically palatable way to legalize as many as possible of the millions of Mexican illegal aliens already here, as well as the millions more who, terrorism and recession notwithstanding, will join them at the first opportunity. But some in the public policy apparat are showing a degree of skepticism about the mutual benefits of guest worker programs.

Foreign Affairs, the house organ of the quintessentially establishment Council on Foreign Relations, is a fairly reliable barometer of what constitutes acceptable discourse among the liberal foreign policy establishment. The November/December 2001 number includes a well-argued and convincing case against guest workers by Philip Martin of UC Davis and Michael Teitelbaum of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation ("The Mirage of Mexican Guest Workers," 80 FOREIGN AFFAIRS No. 6 at 117). Both writers have federal government experience working on immigration and labor issues. With this article, they have done their country a great service. Their conclusion, though it will not surprise VDARE.COM readers, may astonish others: Nothing is more permanent than temporary workers.

Martin and Teitelbaum, sketching the outline of current amnesty/guest worker proposals, marvel that,

"The theoretical benefits of temporary labor programs have seduced politicians in many countries, just as they are now enticing the Fox and Bush administrations. Many U.S. and Mexican proponents seem surprisingly unaware, however, of the long and checkered history of such policies, and quite innocent of the unwanted effects they have produced in both origin and destination countries. The negotiators are advancing the discussions and making decisions with a dangerously myopic perspective on their consequences."

The authors note also what should be obvious to everyone, though it seems to escape the Bush administration's notice: The Mexican government intends through ever-increasing numbers, to increase its political leverage in the United States.

They puncture the forced optimism of those who proclaim a guest worker program a "win-win" scenario for both countries:

"The only problem with this "win-win" scenario is that it will not work. Bush's proposal ignores the fact that virtually no low-wage "temporary worker" program in a high-wage liberal democracy has ever turned out to be truly temporary. On the contrary, most initially small (and often "emergency") temporary worker programs have grown much larger, and lasted far longer, than originally promised."

Among the strengths of Martin and Teitelbaum's reality check (their term) is its illumination of the distortions of and drag on progress that a developed economy suffers when flooded by a third-world workforce:

"History has shown that in agriculture (where many Mexican guest workers would be employed), a pool of cheap workers gives farm owners strong incentives to expand the planting of labor-intensive crops rather than invest in labor-saving equipment and the crops suitable for it. Thus, although the labor supply is supposed to be available only temporarily, farmers adapt in ways that ensure their continued need for workers willing to accept such low wages.

…[P]olitical leaders have often belatedly discovered that admitting temporary low-wage workers unnaturally sustains industries with low productivity and wages, such as garment manufacturing, labor-intensive agriculture, and domestic services. In consequence, the economy's overall productivity and growth suffer."

The Third-World economy that the guest workers leave is likewise distorted by programs fashioned to accommodate them in first-world countries:

"[P]articipants and their families grow accustomed to the increased income; they therefore have no incentive to return home unless rapid economic and job growth there creates commensurate opportunities. As the workers' "temporary" sojourns extend over time, the odds of their ever returning to their homeland diminish, and young people in the home country come to regard employment abroad as normal. … For the countries that send their surplus labor abroad, the eagerly awaited worker remittances bring decidedly mixed economic blessings: the country receives needed capital, some of which is productively invested, but the influx of cash drives up real estate prices, stimulates conspicuous consumption of imported goods, and is unevenly distributed. The remittances also tend to decline over time, unless the number of new emigrants continues to grow. So the source country earns capital temporarily but loses many emigrant workers permanently."

Political disruption follows for both the sending and receiving countries. The authors cite Kurdish agitation in many European countries in response to the Turkish government's arrest of Abdullah Ocalan as an example of how immigrants become activists in their new residences against their home governments, with all the diplomatic friction that results.

In the case of Mexican immigrants to the United States, of course, the problem is the opposite: Masses of them may be expected to agitate against the United States, with the collusion of Mexican officials. Already we see the Mexican government acting openly in the United States to subvert U.S. immigration law, at least in its application to Mexicans. Examples include such societal sabotage as providing "survival kits" for would-be illegal aliens having a go at the border, the matriculas consulares issued by Mexican consulates in the United States to provide bogus identification to illegal aliens already here, and the publication in California's Spanish-language press of the "10 golden rules" for how to avoid la migra by the Mexican consul in San Francisco.

Martin and Teitelbaum expose immigration's role in the transfer of welfare recipients, legally arrived or not, from a poor country to a rich one:

"For the host country, the permanent settlement of guest workers also tends to require greater spending on social services than the government initially anticipated. Many workers find ways to bring their families to join them, creating a large pool of poorly paid and often undereducated people. [Of course, the U.S. government's willful misreading of the 14th Amendment to confer U.S. citizenship on any child born on U.S. soil contributes immeasurably to making the United States a magnet for illegal aliens from all over the world.] They, along with any children born in the host country, require government-financed services such as public education [in Spanish, and soon enough in Mixtec and Quiche as well!] and health care. In the United States specifically, the settlement of millions of Mexicans would increase the numbers of U.S. residents who lack health insurance and rely on publicly financed clinics and other safety nets." [Hasn't it already?]

It is hard to avoid the inference that all Mexico loses in the transfer (and it is not a loss to underestimate) is the strong backs of its peons, while the United States pays a far higher economic and social price.

Martin and Teitelbaum take a hard look at the last official U.S. guest-worker program for Mexicans, the bracero program of 1942-1964 that is so often touted by immigration enthusiasts as the example of how well such things work. They find it a failure in almost every respect, not least in curbing illegal immigration:

"Far from mitigating illegal immigration, the two countries' last major temporary worker program actually initiated and accelerated its flow. During the so-called bracero ("strong-armed one") program from 1942 to 1964, the number of unauthorized Mexicans slipping across the border actually expanded in parallel with the number of authorized temporary workers; the illegal flows then continued to accelerate after the program's termination." [Emphasis added.]

Not surprisingly, agricultural producers soon felt themselves dependent on the supply of cheap foreign labor and lobbied fiercely for its perpetuation. Throughout the bracero period, however, unemployment rose steadily among U.S. farm workers: Despite the enthusiasm of agricultural interests, America finally summoned the political will to end the bracero program. Between 1964 and 1970 illegal alien apprehensions along the Mexican border fell by more than 50%.

But the respite was short-lived. As those who rule America abandoned their duty to defend the cultural coherence of their country, penetration of its borders by illegal aliens began to grow again in the 1970s.

Martin and Teitelbaum make clear that the deleterious effects of the bracero program did not end with it.

Today, scholars largely agree that the 22 years of bracero employment created the conditions for the subsequent boom of unauthorized Mexican migration. To minimize transportation costs, U.S. employers had encouraged prospective bracero workers to move to Mexico's sparsely populated northern region, thereby swelling Mexican border cities that offered little local employment. [The authors do not mention how this began the depopulation of centuries-old villages in Mexico's interior, a process that wholesale emigration to the United States has exacerbated. There is a reason Mexico's north was sparsely populated: it is mostly desert, and far less hospitable than the country's highland core farther south. If any Mexican politician or intellectual protested this exploitative disruption of his country's population, the authors do not say so.] Meanwhile, workers seeking American jobs had learned that they could save the large fees and bribes normally paid to bracero recruiters in Mexico by simply crossing the border illegally. [That is to say, in order to avoid criminals, they became criminals themselves.] Blending in with the legitimate braceros, they could then find a job on their own and eventually get a U.S. work permit.

The bracero program drove another change in the United States' Mexican population:

[E]ven though real wages for [California]'s farm workers barely rose, factory wages increased significantly. Mexican-American farm workers responded by moving to urban areas with better-paying jobs, thereby increasing farmers' avowed need for more imported braceros.

Bracero proponents, then as now, wailed about the disasters to come if their cut-rate labor supply should be cut off. California truck farmers spread apocalyptic visions of unpicked crops rotting in the fields. Martin and Teitelbaum expose this propaganda for the nonsense it was (and is today):

Reality, however, never confirmed these dire predictions. In 1960 some 45,000 farm workers (mostly braceros) had harvested 2.2 million tons of processing tomatoes. By 1999, it took only 5,000 workers to operate machinery that harvested some 12 million tons. Thanks to the efficiency gains from mechanization, the real price of processing tomatoes declined 54 percent while per capita consumption rose 23 percent.

American workers benefited from the braceros' absence:

The rise in farm workers' wages following the bracero program's termination also showed how much it had depressed wages. In 1966, César Chávez and his fledgling United Farm Workers union won a 40 percent wage increase from table grape growers in the San Joaquin Valley of California who could no longer use braceros to counter the union's strike. [But:] These economic gains were later lost as the size of the unauthorized farm worker population soared.

The demographic distortion and, indeed, expulsion of American labor continues:

Today farm lobbies routinely report "farm worker shortages," yet the unemployment rate in the country's primary labor-intensive agricultural region, the Central Valley of California, is exceptionally high–12 to 15 percent in June 2001–compared to the national average of between 4 and 5 percent. Indeed, even as labor shortage claims resonate in Washington, Central Valley officials are actually offering money to welfare recipients who agree to move to other states. [!]

Martin and Teitelbaum give a thumbnail summary of Germany's experience with admitting guest workers, showing how programs intended to provide manual laborers for a year or two have led to a large, permanent non-German population, one with very high rates of unemployment and welfare dependency. Despite efforts by the government actively to discourage immigration for the purpose of family reunification—the opposite of American policy—Gastarbeitern arrange successfully to have their families join them. Few, naturally, intend ever to return to Turkey.

The authors observe that none of the proposals being discussed in Congress acknowledges the negative results of the bracero program or those of the disastrous amnesty of 1986, which Americans were assured would end the plague of illegal immigration for good. This "Amnesty to End All Amnesties" legalized 2.8 million illegal aliens by applying proofs of eligibility so loose that Martin and Teitelbaum estimate that perhaps half of the successful claims for legalization were fraudulent, often flagrantly so.

The notion underlying the 1986 amnesty (unsupported, naturally, by logic or experience) was that legalizing migrants and controlling the flow across the border could boost declining farm wages. Employers would have to pay the newly legalized aliens more to keep them on the land, as they could now pursue more lucrative employment elsewhere in the U.S. economy. But the continuing failure to police the borders gutted the (probably flawed) premise of the amnesty:

[T]he law's ineffective enforcement provisions allowed more unauthorized immigrants to enter the country and find farm work. Within a decade most [legalized farm workers] had left agriculture for better-paid employment, and more than half of the farm labor force was again unauthorized.

So much for that bright idea.

Miller and Teitelbaum also point out why another amnesty would again fail to hold agricultural workers on the land, or prevent illegal immigration to replace the guest workers who leave agriculture. A prerequisite for the success of any such scheme is the federal government's ability to prevent illegal aliens from buying fraudulent documents of the sort that allowed so many illegal aliens fraudulently to claim amnesty in 1986. As we all know, the federal government has failed utterly to shut down the supply of bogus papers. With the Mexican government now issuing matriculas consulares in the United States to Mexican illegal aliens with the purpose of "proving" their legality, and supine American local governments willing to accept these rather than risk having to enforce the law, the task is now far more difficult. In any event, the Bush administration lacks the political will to tackle the problem.

While the authors concentrate on the economics of guest worker programs, they do at least touch upon the political dimension by asking why such self-evidently harmful proposals are so popular today. Bravely, they even suggest an answer:

"[One] explanation for the current vogue of temporary labor programs is the odd nature of immigration politics in the United States. Choices about immigration have long been controlled less by logic than by unorthodox coalitions that bring together otherwise antagonistic regional, ideological, economic and other ethnic interest groups. … Both [Democrats and Republicans] imagine that their support for such policies will win them additional supporters among current citizens and the legalized Mexicans who will seek naturalization. Conservative proponents believe that regularization or legalization would increase the number of voters who favor their social and cultural values, such as dedication to religion, opposition to abortion, and reliance on the self and family rather than on government. Meanwhile, their liberal opponents anticipate a swelling of their own political constituencies with supporters of such issues as income redistribution, labor rights, and affirmative action."

Allan Wall and others have offered plenty of evidence for why the Democrats' is the better bet. The immigration and naturalization of large numbers of Mexicans is probably the quickest way imaginable to place the federal government permanently in the hands of the Left (to the extent it isn't there already), although Martin and Teitelbaum fudge the point in their generally admirable article. (They did have to get it published, after all.) Still, they are willing to say this:

The politics of immigration policy is … being driven by small, concentrated, and well-financed interest groups that stand to gain significantly in the short term.

That is, by ethnic lobbies, some employers, and one foreign government.

Martin and Teitelbaum refute the presumption that the United States cannot provide American workers to do the jobs illegal aliens do now. It has arisen, they argue, only as a consequence of our government's failure to do its duty and enforce the immigration laws. As in the case of California farmers and braceros, the degree of dependence on Mexican workers is a function of their availability–and today their availability is essentially unlimited.

The authors offer common-sense proposals for how to reduce dependence on illegal aliens: enforce the legal prohibitions against employing them, while ensuring that employers in the low-income employment sectors where the aliens cluster abide by minimum-wage and working-condition regulations. Just as important, they advocate ending legislative perversities that favor the employment of foreigners over Americans. As they note, the tax code provides an incentive to hire temporary workers by exempting their wages from Social Security contributions and unemployment taxes, allowing the "temporary" migrants to undercut Americans' wages and working conditions. 

Without … an equalization of economic incentives, employers will learn to exploit the rules of any guest worker program just as they have exploited the supply of unauthorized migrants, and they will cease to look for alternatives involving domestic recruitment or investment in more efficient production.

"The Mirage of Mexican Guest Workers" is not very forthright in its choice of terms (the authors regularly eschew the words "amnesty" and "illegal alien" in favor of "legalization" and "undocumented migrant." Nevertheless, those who care about the rapidly blurring character of the American nation will find much cold economic argument in it to deploy alongside cultural and social arguments against continued immigration.

Martin and Teitelbaum get the last word here. I quote from the conclusion of their article:

The terrorist attacks of September 11 force a rethinking of U.S. policy on the admission and residence of foreign nationals, policies that are neither well designed nor effectively enforced. As the country begins to free itself from the disorder of current immigration policies and to consider what changes would be constructive and sustainable, policymakers must understand that proposals for new guest workers and legalization policies for unauthorized immigrants would resolve none of the current problems. They would only make the situation a great deal worse.

In many countries, under many types of government, and across many time periods, experiences with guest worker programs have led to an overwhelming and simple consensus among those who have studied the issue: there is nothing more permanent than temporary workers.

Pretty strong stuff—especially when you stop to consider where it's coming from.

January 11, 2002