Crucial Guest-Worker Amendment Defeated

By The News May 23, 2007

After a few hours of debate, the Senate voted Tuesday to keep the guest-worker program as a part of the latest immigration bill. The program will allow up to 600,000 laborers in on two-year stints to fill low-wage, low-skill jobs. The L.A. Times reported:

A controversial bill that would overhaul the nation’s immigration system survived its first major test Tuesday, when the Senate overwhelmingly defeated a bid by two Democratic senators to eliminate a key component: a program to allow foreign workers into the country temporarily. The amendment — the first in the debate and the first of a number of attacks expected from liberal lawmakers — sparked a contentious exchange over whether the temporary worker program would depress the wages of Americans. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who cosponsored the amendment with Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), criticized the temporary worker program as "a way to keep our workers down, keep them weak and, in my view, destroy the middle class." Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a principal author of the bill, countered that a temporary worker program would protect wages for American workers. "We are trying to take illegality out of the equation," he said. The debate laid bare disagreements among Democrats on immigration. Although many conservative Republican senators oppose the bill, most Democrats on the left are trying to strike a difficult balance. They hope to change the bill but think it could offer the best chance in years to address illegal immigration. The intensity of the debate signaled steep challenges for the bipartisan group of senators who wrote the bill and were working to protect its core features, which they think are essential to draw enough votes to pass.

Let’s hope this doesn’t predict the success of other amendments proposed by Democrats, especially one Sen. Clinton plans to propose regarding legalization based on family-ties. Republicans are trying to replace our family-focused immigration policy with a merit system whereby only the most educated and English proficient immigrants are allowed to stay longer than those working under the guest-worker program. This is one shift we can’t afford to make.