It took six years, but it's finally happened - I agree with the president. We need a guest worker program in this country. It needs to be legal, controlled and eventually lead to citizenship. But the president's proposal is missing one critical element.
Right now, the Senate is debating some goofy compromise where they would make current illegal immigrants go back to the border and either cross over and return or not return based on the number of years they've been here. Frankly, that's asinine. I can hardly believe grown men are discussing such a ridiculous proposal.
If they're undocumented, illegal workers, how are you going to determine how long they've been here? Take their word for it? What process are you going to use for this cumbersome operation? Is there going to be trials that determine how long they've been here illegally?
What incentive are the new illegal aliens going to have to turn themselves in and go back to their home countries? Why won't we have the same exact problem with those new guys a couple of years from now?
President Bush is right (man, that sounds funny) about the need for a guest worker program. The Senate is right to try to find a reasonable compromise between getting tough and being practical and just. But, I think they are missing the one component that could help put teeth in these new proposals and yet maintain fairness.
My proposal would be a one strike and you're out clause.
Everyone in the country illegally gets to sign on to a guest worker program within some reasonably prescribed time period. They are put at the very end of the line of immigrants, meaning no current legal immigrant can wait longer for citizenship than a current illegal immigrant (this might also mean that we would have to speed up the painstakingly long legal immigration process). And then once everyone has had a chance to sign onto the guest worker program, any new immigrant that comes into the country illegally and does not use the guest worker program will be barred from ever becoming a US citizen.
If you're caught working in this country illegally after we set up a legal guest worker program for non-citizens, you lose your right to become a US citizen permanently. One strike and you're out.
Now, of course, people can sneak back into the country and perhaps find more illegal work eventually, but losing the chance at citizenship forever is a heavy price to pay for cheating the system. This is especially true when we set up a perfectly legal way to work here instead.
For those workers who don't want to wait long enough to gain eventual citizenship, then they are free to go back to their country of origin. But if they stay and work long enough here to make it through the whole process, then they have earned their citizenship. And we should be proud to have them.
I am a legal immigrant to this country. I wasn't born a US citizen - I chose it. I could not be more proud of my decision. This is one of the reasons I cling so fervently to the idea of America. Because I didn't sign up for an ethnicity, a nationality or for some specific geographic location, I signed up for the principles and the ideals of America. I became a citizen for the hope that America offers.
I believe that opportunity should be available to everyone who is willing to work for it. Immigration has always made this country stronger. We are all immigrants, even down to the so-called Native Americans who crossed the Bering Strait to get here. We all came looking for something new and better.
But there has to be rules. We are a country guided by the rule of law (at least we were until this administration -- though I agree with them on this issue, even this fits their pattern of legalizing previously illegal acts). Unfortunately, we do not have room for the whole world. But we should always have room for those who play by the rules.
I know that the one strike rule might seem a bit draconian to some, but if there isn't a great disincentive to rule breaking, you will never be able to stop the tide of illegal immigrants. If there isn't a heavy price to pay for cheating, humans will always find a way around new rules or new fences.
We want to be an open society but we also want to be one that is guided by fairness. With the Uygur Amendment, no one has to be dragged back across the border, no one rounded up or arrested. Companies get to keep their employees, immigrants get to stay if they play within the rules and we get a system that provides a tremendous incentive for people to follow the law. Tough but fair. The American way.