The immigration-reform speech President Bush delivered this week raises the question of whether he will hold the security of our borders hostage until Congress enacts what he calls a "temporary worker" program.
Speaking in Arizona more than four years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush proposed a series of long-overdue measures designed to prevent masses of unknown persons from swarming across our frontiers and living in our country, illegally, with impunity. "Securing our border is essential to securing the homeland," he said -- leaving one to wonder why he waited so long to make it a priority.
But Bush also used the speech to resurrect his guest-worker plan, claiming "we will not be able to effectively enforce our immigration laws until we create a temporary worker program."
The basic terms have now been set for what could be a disastrous legislative compromise: The president at last secures our borders, but only after Congress has agreed to legalize a system that allows U.S. employers to hire foreign laborers who would be compelled by law to work for lower wages than any American would accept for the same work.
Congress should tell Bush: no deal. It should craft an immigration reform that both secures our borders and preserves our core values of free enterprise and free labor.
For the sake of argument, grant the president his implausible claim that his plan is not an "amnesty." ("Workers would be able to register for legal status for a fixed period of time, and then be required to go home," Bush said.) But even if all guest workers were sent home in exchange for new guest workers at the end of their terms, the system would still be a particularly destructive form of corporate welfare, creating a federally enforced underclass of low-wage workers whose employers would almost certainly pass on to U.S. taxpayers the bulk of whatever health-care, education and criminal-justice-system costs these guest workers and their children might incur.
"This program would create a legal way to match willing foreign workers with willing American employers to fill jobs that Americans will not do," Bush said in Arizona.
But are there honest jobs Americans truly won't do? Under Bush's plan, for example, if it cost a restaurant chain $10 an hour to persuade an American to mop its floors, the chain could simply offer the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour and, when no Americans applied, import guest workers at the lower wage.
Would that mean Americans won't mop?