John Leo

The elite consensus makes it unlikely that the negative effects of guest-worker normalization will get much press attention. This is particularly so because the White House has left so much of Bush?s plan vague. The president gets credit for reaching out to protect a vulnerable group now, but the details and costs will appear much later. We can start to estimate costs now. Despite the White House?s careful aversion to the ?A? word, granting legal status to millions of illegal immigrants is a form of amnesty. It will further corrode faith in government by granting special concessions to those who broke the law to get here. And it will send the same message as previous amnesties: If you can make it over the border, you will eventually be granted legal recognition.

Another byproduct will be lower wages for unskilled workers, both immigrants and natives. American-born blacks will pay a high price for the lowering of wages due to the regularization of illegal immigrants. So will many immigrants. Harvard?s George Borjas, himself an immigrant, reports that in 1970, foreign-born workers earned as much as American-born workers, but by 1998 male immigrants typically earned only 77 percent of what natives earned, making the gap between immigrants and native stock three times as large as it was in 1910. What will be the gap after the Bush immigration package sails through?

Writing when Bush first proposed his Mexican initiative in 2001, sociologist Christopher Jencks said the highest price might be paid by children of the new Latino immigrants, who will very likely earn little more than their parents, perhaps become disillusioned with their new homeland, and harden into a sizable underclass. He raises the specter of a possible Latin-American-style gap in the United States between the rich and the poor.

At some point, the influx of unskilled labor has to be limited to protect fair wages and decent working conditions for all. In the elite view, it is uncompassionate and maybe racist to talk about limiting immigration. But this is a huge, continuous immigration with no end in sight. In 2001, the Mexican Ministry of the Interior reported that even with falling birthrates and increased economic development, mass immigration from Mexico to the United States will continue for at least 30 years. The ministry?s estimate, nearly 400,000 immigrants per year, is likely much too low and takes no account of a guest-worker program.

Government has made a series of awful decisions on immigration and apparently is ready to do it once again, this time with short-term, election-year gains in mind. Letting this plan breeze through Congress would be a drastic mistake.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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