Guest-worker plan is un-American

Terry Jeffrey

5/18/2005 12:00:00 AM - Terry Jeffrey

Sen. Ted Kennedy may do a lot of talking about his love for the little guy, but if two major proposals he has made in this Congress were to become law, it would be a disaster for the poorest American workers and a blow to American freedom.

 Some American workers would lose their jobs, while others would see their wages suppressed by the legalized mass importation of foreign workers who would be allowed into the United States precisely because they had agreed ahead of time to sell their labor here for less than an American would.

 Kennedy's first major proposal, which was narrowly defeated in the Senate in March, would have increased the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour. That would have thrown some Americans off the bottom rung of the employment ladder.

 His second proposal, introduced last week, would provide amnesty to illegal aliens while creating a permanent, ongoing guest-worker program to fill -- as a summary on Kennedy's Web site puts it -- "jobs that require few or no skills."

 This would thrust the American employment ladder down into Mexico and other under-developed regions of the world, so that workers who are used to laboring for Third World wages could routinely, legally and in massive numbers climb into the U.S. job market and compete directly with American workers for pay and positions.

 Kennedy's minimum-wage increase would have effectively cut demand for low-wage labor. His guest-worker program would increase supply. Both would cost jobs for the poorest Americans.

 When promoting his plan to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25, Kennedy attacked rich executives for not volunteering to pay more than the market demands to their lowest-paid workers. "What is fair about executives who pay themselves millions of dollars but can't find a way to pay a decent minimum wage?" he fumed on the Senate floor. But, with his guest-worker program, Kennedy wants to allow these same executives to import cheap foreign laborers whenever the domestic labor market drives the wages of American workers to a higher level than these executives want to pay.

 Kennedy is not utterly inconsistent: With both proposals, he favors government intervention in the labor market to fix the price of low-skilled labor.

 But while his minimum-wage proposal may be bad economics, his guest-worker plan is worse: It is un-American.

 It would create a new H-5A visa that would allow an alien to live and work in the United States for three years. This visa would be renewable once. After that, the employer can sponsor the guest worker for permanent residency status, or the guest worker can apply for that status himself. But to get the visa in the first place, the alien must be willing to take a job offered at a pay rate that the American employer could not get an American worker to accept. Once in the country, in this low-paying job, the worker can switch to another job, but he must leave the country if he is unemployed for more than 60 days.

 Initially, 400,000 new guest workers would be allowed into the country each year on this basis. But, according to Kennedy's summary, if the demand for these must-be-paid-less-than-American workers is greater than 400,000 per year, the number can be "adjusted up."

 Until now, the American ideal of an immigrant has been someone who comes here with the ambition to work harder, earn more, save more, perhaps start a business and succeed in the free-enterprise system. But this entrepreneurial spirit will not be encouraged among the sub-class of guest workers Kennedy would create. The bill, says Kennedy's summary, "prohibits the hiring of temporary workers as independent contractors."

 Writing in National Review in 1998, Mark Krikorian, the director of the Center for Immigration Studies, aptly likened earlier guest-worker plans of this type to "indentured servitude."

 But the worst part of Kennedy's plan is that it is co-sponsored by Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who hope to win the support of President Bush for this plan. "We've used the president's framework and principles to craft this package," said McCain. "And I applaud President Bush for his leadership on this issue."

 No matter who tries to push this package through Congress, conservatives should return it to sender.