Arizona Proposing A State Guest Worker program
April 02, 2008, 06:59 AM
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Faye Bowers writes at the Christian Science Monitor:
The state already at the cutting edge of immigration reform seems poised to undertake yet another experiment: a guest worker program created and administered by a state rather than by the federal government.

The Arizona legislature is expected on Monday to fast track bills to create a temporary worker program in the state. Even with the backing of top lawmakers, the bills face big hurdles, including sign-off from the feds. But if approved, they would streamline the process for Arizona employers to hire temporary workers from Mexico – and would serve as a model for national reform, say supporters........

Changes include a procedure to more fairly calculate wages for foreign workers and ways to cut red tape, making it easier and swifter to hire foreign workers, particularly at harvest time. To protect domestic workers, the proposed changes increase the time employers would be required to recruit American workers before resorting to hiring foreign labor.

I don't have a problem in theory with state administered programs. Frankly, federally administered immigration has been a mess. The problem is that that the basic economics behind guest worker programs in the US have been fundamentally bad. I question whether guest worker programs have much of place in a democratic society. One possibly legitimate exception I can see is for true multinational corporations that both hire US citizens overseas and sometimes want to bring a similar number of foreign workers into the US.

Authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia make extensive use of guest workers programs in part to control their own populations. Singapore has a good example of a competently administered and widely used guest worker program—but the fees for their program are far in excess of anything being proposed here.

What lawmakers need to come to grips with: US citizenship has substantial economic value. Guest worker programs that don't have substantial fees and aren't very carefully administered create a false illusion of being economically viable by mining the value of the citizenship of other Americans.

Now, in this case, the citizenship values the proposed Arizona program mines are those of the least skilled, and least economically viable Americans. Basically, we have holders of some rather valuable real estate in Arizona who are used less expensive immigrant labor to maintain higher property values instead of hiring American workers. It isn't like there aren't a lot of unskilled Americans that could do jobs.

Major American cities are full of such people. With reasonable incentives, these folks can and would move to Arizona to pick lettuce. Now, at the price at which they would pick lettuce, it might make more sense to automate the process, and provide employment for US technical workers.

Ultimately we have a choice here:Do we want a technologically advanced, democratic society or do we want to maintain the property values of large real estate owners in places like Arizona?