Tuesday, April 4, 2006

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What's the upside of a guest worker program?

It's considered a truism that the United States has been far more successful at integrating immigrants than Western Europe. Fareed Zakaria's column in yesterday's Washington Post elegently explains why:

Seven years ago, when I was visiting Germany, I met with an official who explained to me that the country had a foolproof solution to its economic woes. Watching the U.S. economy soar during the 1990s, the Germans had decided that they, too, needed to go the high-technology route. But how? In the late '90s, the answer seemed obvious: Indians. After all, Indian entrepreneurs accounted for one of every three Silicon Valley start-ups. So the German government decided that it would lure Indians to Germany just as America does: by offering green cards. Officials created something called the German Green Card and announced that they would issue 20,000 in the first year. Naturally, they expected that tens of thousands more Indians would soon be begging to come, and perhaps the quotas would have to be increased. But the program was a flop. A year later barely half of the 20,000 cards had been issued. After a few extensions, the program was abolished.

I told the German official at the time that I was sure the initiative would fail. It's not that I had any particular expertise in immigration policy, but I understood something about green cards, because I had one (the American version) myself.

The German Green Card was misnamed, I argued, because it never, under any circumstances, translated into German citizenship. The U.S. green card, by contrast, is an almost automatic path to becoming American (after five years and a clean record)....

Many Americans have become enamored of the European approach to immigration -- perhaps without realizing it. Guest workers, penalties, sanctions and deportation are all a part of Europe's mode of dealing with immigrants. The results of this approach have been on display recently in France, where rioting migrant youths again burned cars last week. Across Europe one sees disaffected, alienated immigrants, ripe for radicalism. The immigrant communities deserve their fair share of blame for this, but there's a cycle at work. European societies exclude the immigrants, who become alienated and reject their societies.

One puzzle about post-Sept. 11 America is that it has not had a subsequent terror attack -- not even a small backpack bomb in a movie theater -- while there have been dozens in Europe. My own explanation is that American immigrant communities, even Arab and Muslim ones, are not very radicalized. (Even if such an attack does take place, the fact that 4 1/2 years have gone by without one provides some proof of this contention.) Compared with every other country in the world, America does immigration superbly. Do we really want to junk that for the French approach?

The United States has a real problem with flows of illegal immigrants, largely from Mexico (70 percent of illegal immigrants are from that one country). But let us understand the forces at work here. "The income gap between the United States and Mexico is the largest between any two contiguous countries in the world," writes Stanford historian David Kennedy. That huge disparity is producing massive demand in the United States and massive supply from Mexico and Central America. Whenever governments try to come between these two forces -- think of drugs -- simply increasing enforcement does not work. Tighter border control is an excellent idea, but to work, it will have to be coupled with some recognition of the laws of supply and demand -- that is, it will have to include expansion of the legal immigrant pool.

Beyond the purely economic issue, however, there is the much deeper one that defines America -- to itself, to its immigrants and to the world. How do we want to treat those who are already in this country, working and living with us? How do we want to treat those who come in on visas or guest permits? These people must have some hope, some reasonable path to becoming Americans. Otherwise we are sending a signal that there are groups of people who are somehow unfit to be Americans, that these newcomers are not really welcome and that what we want are workers, not potential citizens. And we will end up with immigrants who have similarly cold feelings about America.

While we're on the topic, be sure to check out Carl Bialik's Wall Street Journal column to see how the number of illegal immigrants are measured.

posted by Dan on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM


So this is a rationale to not enforce US law and allow the southern border to become a freeway.

Structured, legal immigration is fine and should be encouraged. Right after we seal our southern border and put several hundred employers of illegals in prison.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

"One puzzle about post-Sept. 11 America is that it has not had a subsequent terror attack -- not even a small backpack bomb in a movie theater -- while there have been dozens in Europe."

And so we see that even an intelligent, well-informed man has completely forgotten that, less than five years ago, thousands of people working mere blocks from his office were exposed to a deadly bacterium, killing five people, in an attack - or rather a series of attacks - which began without warning and ceased without reason, and for which no one has ever been caught or convicted. Are they now supposed to have been accidents? Natural causes? Vandalism?

posted by: ajay on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

There are an estimated 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants, and an estimated 298 million people in the US.

This makes illegal immigrants almost 4% of the US population, or about 1 of 25 people.

The police state required to forcibly detain and deport 1 of every 25 people in the US would make Stalin wet himself.

If "a government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away", I suggest some serious consideration about the size of a government that could solve the problem of illegal immigration.

posted by: Richard Campbell on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

You might want to change 'Western Europe' to 'Germany' (which has had no terrorist attacks). The UK bombers were UK-born citizens, and the status of the Moroccans in Spain is more similar to the Mexicans in the US than that of 'Guest workers'.
He'll have to work harder than that to find a link between radical Islam and immigration policy.

posted by: Gabriel on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

The amazing thing is that Zakariah can either get away with failing to check facts -- and Newsweek failing to check facts, and

Case in point: Zakariah claims that the US had not had a 'terrorist attack, even a small one, since 9/11'. Well, about two weeks ago an Iranian or Iranian American drove his card into a bunch of kids on the Duke university campus, in the name of Allah. Then there was the Egyptian that shot up the El Al counter at LAX a few weeks after 9/11. Of course there are the Lackawanna six, not technically a terrorism case in the US, but
American born Muslims that were training for terror.

Zakariah's piece is also flawed when he clumps together 'European' citizenship practices. The UK has a regime very much like the US -- birthright citizenship, official multiculturalism, laissez faire economics, and yet they suffered 7/7 . France has birthright citizenship and strong programs for assimilation -- everyone of every religion or color is supposed to be French and devoted to 'La France' , and yet they have riots in their 'quartier sensibles'. Germany has had neither riots nor Islamic terrorist attacks, but it is very hard to get German citizenship.

This leads to another structural/logical flaw in Zakariah's piece -- comparing Germany's 'failure' to attract Indian whizkids with the lack of terror attacks here. He is comparing not merely apples and oranges, but apple pie with orange juice. That is is trying to establish a link between citizenship policies and Islamic terror attacks, but illustrates it by talking about a proposed guest worker program in Germany for workers from a non-Islamic country and the terror attacks by Islamicsts countries other than Germany. He would fail a nineth-grade essay writing exam.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

Apologies for repeating other commenter's points -- I started yapping on my own without reading the previous posts and now see I have repeated many points made.

To Robert Campbell,

The fact is that many Mexican illegals deport themselves every year for holidays (particularly Christmans) and have done the same for one time events; many left in the wake of 9/11. Dry up the demand by throwing a few hirers of illegals in jail, start having a few sweeps of businesses, and you would see a gradual exodus of Mexicans back to Mexico.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

Mitchell, congratulations on one of the most massive forced misreadings of a column that I have ever seen. Your inattention to small details -- for example, the correct speliing of the author's name -- speaks volumes about the quality of your other arguments.

posted by: Ned on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]


Other than the mispelling of a foreign name, please show me my misreadings. Please tell me that there have been no terrorist attacks, by immigrants or children of immigrants, in the US since 9/11. Please tell me how Zakariah's comparison works at all when the rioters of France are not guest workers, but citizens of that country.

The great thing about immigration enthusiasts is their refusal to engage in debate about actual facts, so nitpicking and name calling is their resort.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

There is absolutely no political will to stop illegal immigration so debating it is a farce. The Democrats like to posture as the party friendly to immigrants and minorities so they will never support any real action that cracks down on illegals. The Republicans like to talk about cracking down on illegals, but they will never support restricting demand and actually enforcing the labor laws, which would probably be the most effective solution. Too many powerful political donors benefit directly from having a pool of cheap labor. In fact most employers would rather hire an illegal than a native born American at the same wage rate. Illegals are perceived as harder working and more ambitious. If you are a poor uneducated black, or even white American, employers first assumption is that you're lazy and/or a drug user. The people that benefit from large scale illegal immigration benefit directly, the people that are harmed, are harmed indirectly. So forget about any real change taking place.

posted by: vanya_6724 on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

"less than five years ago, thousands of people working mere blocks from his office were exposed to a deadly bacterium, killing five people, in an attack - or rather a series of attacks - which began without warning and ceased without reason, and for which no one has ever been caught or convicted"

It's a mystery, true. But it obviously wasn't done for a political purpose (say by Al Queda) or we would have heard about it. On the face of it the anthrax attacks have much more of the appearance of a Unibomber style attack than a classic terrorist attack.

The UNC attack where an angry muslim drove a SUV into a crowd of students agains appears to have been something of an impulse of an individual. Something like the gunman at LAX a few years ago.

What we haven't seen is a plot (since 9/11) which looks orchestrated by a group of Muslims (or anyone else). I live in London in the UK, where there have been at least 4 major orchestrated group attacks of plot. The 7/7 bombings last year which killed 50+, the 7/21 bombings which failed. There was a Ricin plot a couple years ago, and last year a bunch of young Muslims were arrested in West London for an apparent plan to reprise the OK City attack with a fuel oil/fertilizer bomb. Not to mention the suicide bombers who struck Israeli targets (or tried to) and Richard Reid, the shoe bomber.

I think Zakaria makes an important point about the failure of the German Green Card, there are a couple points he overlooks. I think Indians find the US much more attractive than Germany for many reasons, not the least of which is possible citizenship. The US has a better job market, is more accepting than Germany to immigrants, and is a HUGELY better place to start a business than Germany is. The US also has places like Silicon Valley, the 495 corridor, RTP, Austin, etc. High Tech hothouses where one can make a big score. Germany has nothing like it. Another factor is that there are a lot of Indians already in the US. That helps any newcomer.

posted by: Don S on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

What we haven't seen is a plot (since 9/11) which looks orchestrated by a group of Muslims (or anyone else).

That's not what Zakaria said -- he said *no* attacks "not even a small one". I (and Mark Steyn) consider the shooting up of an El Al counter by an Egyptian immigrant a terrorist attack by an immigrant. The UNC incident was admittedly motivated by the assailant's attachment to Islam. Lackawanna illustrates there are radicalized organized Muslims in the US.

I agree there are a lot of reasons why the Indians for Germany program failed. Some of it was the opposition on the part of politicians --Jürgen Rüttgers and his 'Kinder statt Inder" [Invest in] Children instead of Indians)] campaign (I was living in Germany at the time).

I think my criticism still stands. Zakaria tries to create a European policy on immigration (and by implication, citizenship) where none exists in practice. Having just left to the UK after three years --thank God-- I know the degree of official multiculturalism, the stifling of any dissent on immigration, and the officially enforced political correctness on immigration. Yet somehow the 7/7 attacks happened, riots happen, etc. Germany, until recently a blut und boden state, has none of that. So it seems Zakaria's logic is deeply flawed.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

I'm with Don S...there are all kinds of reasons that could explain the failure of this program other than the mechanics of immigration law. If you want to start a company...and many Indians do...where are you more likely to get angel & VC money...Germany or the US?

I don't think it speaks well for Zakaria's thought process that he jumped to a conclusion without considering alternative hypotheses.

posted by: David Foster on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

Let's not lose track of our subject here by overdoing the analogy between America and Europe.

Obviously government policies and cultural attitudes of the country receiving immigrants are not the only things that affect political attitudes among immigrants themselves. It may be that more of the difference between America and Europe in this area can be explained by the differences between Mexicans and Muslims from nothern Africa and western Asia. While this is an interesting subject, it is not immediately helpful to us in deciding how to reform American immigration policies.

Zakaria is right that a reliable track to American citizenship is a spur to legal immigration and (I think) a necessary element of a legislative response to illegal immigration. But historically a very substantial number of immigrant workers have neither needed nor desired a track to American citizenship, because they always intended to return to their countries of origin.

It seems desirable to me that a track to American citizenship be something an immigrant chooses. This is because, for most people, becoming fully American means, and should mean, leaving much of one's own country behind. At the same time there is nothing wrong with having people contribute their labors and talents to our economy while sending money home as a foundation on which to build a better life in their native countries for themselves and their families. I think that choice ought to be open as well, but I do think the two choices ought to be distinct and made to the extent possible by the immigrants rather than by the government.

I should add that whatever deal or grand bargain is arrived at with respect to immigration, implementing it will be a matter of great difficulty. The agencies with responsibility for immigration and consular affairs are not among the most efficient in the federal government, yet it is they who will have the heaviest burden of managing a guest worker program, travel of guest workers and/or newly legal immigrants from the US and back, producing and distributing secure legal documents and so forth.

In addition, the conditions for a citizenship track -- requiring some level of proficiency in English, for example -- will be difficult to enforce and expensive to facilitate. Yet the failure to enforce them is likely to be deeply resented by Americans skeptical that immigration "reform" is not after all just a big grant of amnesty. A successful immigration reform must be seen to address the concerns of people besides the immigrants; a grand bargain now containing terms that are not lived up to later will only worsen the resentment of immigration that has been so important in making this issue prominent in the first place.

posted by: Zathras on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

Even though FZ is overly broad in his arguments, he's certainly on to something. There is no doubt that the U.S. has a far more successful structure for integrating immigrants and this shows itself in polling which shows a far less radicalized Muslim population in this country. One can argue back and forth about the North Carolina kid, but the general point will still hold.

But just to add on to the niggling criticisms, another logical reason for Indians to come to the U.S. is their elite's fluency in English. In fact, it seems to me by far the most obvious reason.

posted by: anthony on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

This is because, for most people, becoming fully American means, and should mean, leaving much of one's own country behind.

Zathras, you must have missed some of the coverage by conservative bloggers, such as Michelle Malkin, of the illegals' demostrations in LA and elsewhere. The fact is there is a strong current of Mexican nationalism amongst many Mexicans in the US. As a California native, I know this to be the case.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

To the degree that is a concern, the best way to address it is through a process in which those immigrants who do not wish to embark on a path toward American citizenship separate themselves from those who do. That path should thereafter emphasize increasing exposure to American language, culture and history.

I am aware of the likelihood that however Congress decides to proceed with respect to immigration, a substantial part of the immigrant community along with (mostly Democratic) politicians scrambling to align themselves with a new organized interest group will lobby for amnesty and citizenship with no strings. To recognize they will do this is not to concede that they will win. But the responsible position opposed to theirs cannot be quixotic advocacy of undoing immigration that has occurred over the last 20 years. I don't believe successful opposition to illegal immigration is compatible with hostility to most illegal immigrants.

posted by: Zathras on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

My support of the policy is based largely on the belief that it will get more legalised immigrants in the country over the next couple of administrations, and that it won't take longer than that for the program to change and give them citizenship. It's not a good system, but it seems like it'll be unstable in the US.

That said, Zakaria's claims aren't terribly sensible. The guestworker's kids would still have citizenship, and there'd still be a host of ways that immigrants could gain citizenship. No one is talking about removing many of the current tracks to this. No guestworker program is going to make the US like Germany, since it would be a supplement, not an alternative to the current system. The US can still offer favourable Visas to high skilled immigrants (like me, and a lot of Indians), and move them through to citizenship with enough time. That'll still be a desirable thing. They'll also be able to have lower skilled guestworkers who spend a shorter time in the US. Guestworkers who spend their lives here are likely to have children or some other vector to gaining citizenship before they die.

posted by: James of England on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

Oh, one further note: It's not surprising that the Germans found it tougher to attract Indians.

We speak their language.

posted by: James of England on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

Your link to Carl Bialik's column is not correct; it points to Zakaria's column instead.

posted by: Dana on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

Mitchell, "Richard" is not considered a foreign name, last I checked.

posted by: Richard Campbell on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

I find it strange that wanting to enforce laws which have been passed through the democratic process should be considered 'hostility'.

As for quixotic attempts to undo immigration, you are right, many of its effect are undoable. But given the record in the last thirty years, I think the belief that any sort of citizenship will turn most immigrants--legal or illegal--into public spirited, good government citizens. Ethnicity is almost everything in a politics--the newly minted citizens will be doing nothing political except lobbying for even more concessions to help get even more of their own group into the country. We've been down this road once, it would be criminally stupid follow this path again.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

Mitchell, "Richard" is not considered a foreign name, last I checked.

I think Ned was upset at my putting an 'h' at the end of Zakaria, that's the foreign name I was refering to.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

The fact is that many Mexican illegals deport themselves every year for holidays (particularly Christmans) and have done the same for one time events; many left in the wake of 9/11. Dry up the demand by throwing a few hirers of illegals in jail, start having a few sweeps of businesses, and you would see a gradual exodus of Mexicans back to Mexico.
Brilliant. How exactly do you plan to "throw a few hirers of illegals in jail"? It's already illegal to hire illegal aliens. But it's an unenforceable law. We require employers to fill out the I-9 forms before hiring, but that's only as good as the underlying documents. In other words, not very.

Could you improve that? No, not really. If you think the federal government is intrusive _now_, just wait until they compile a database of every American to inform employers whether a job applicant is legitimate. Which would mean that you'd need to get permission from the government before you were allowed to work for a living. Leaving aside the totalitarian nature of such a proposal, it's entirely unworkable. I want someone to come fix the pipe that burst in my house, and I need to call the government and wait, what, three or four weeks before they tell me whether the person I want to hire is eligible?

(Sure -- the government will do it instantaneously. And then the tooth fairy will come and leave $50 under your pillow. (And then the tooth fairy will be arrested for being an ineligible worker.))

posted by: David Nieporent on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]


Yes the government is intrusive now, so any extra intrusion in order to enforce immigration laws is marginal. A coffee house in CA now, for example, faces health inspections, insurance oversite agency inspections, building inspectors. Whether these are all good things is debateable, but the fact is they are carried out, and woe to the business owner that knowingly violates, and persists in violation, of code. So could real, effective employment elligibility verification.

Underlying documents are a problem, but let's get real. We have a de facto national ID number in the SSN, and a de facto ID in states' drivers license. The time has come to make the Social Security Card as secure as state drivers licenses, or more so. We have the technology, we must find the political will

As for your plumbing example, more people hire plumbers from plumbing contractors. These, in turn, are regulated (at least in California). They are licensed, bonded state contractors. Again, government intrusion already exists.

It really is amazing to me how naïve (seeming) libertarian types are. The various layers of government are already quite intrusive on US citizens. Moreover, the cost of employing illegals (local emergency room health care, school costs, crowding, extra traffic) are all externalized. Until libs find a way to deal with these issues (total privatization of everything, everywhere) I will find arguments about intrusiveness of government unconvincing.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

"But it's an unenforceable law."

Not really. I can go into most areas of American in within 72 hours find employers who knowingly employ illegals.

Curiously, in our area the only major enforcement action is against a German teenager who was cared for by his grandfather here after his last custodial parent died, and there was a paperwork slip up. The kid went to INS and tried to fix it. The entire weight of the federal government was dropped on this kid's head (including jail) until an entire region of Ohio started beating the government and our politicians. There are an estimated 40,000 illegals in this region.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]


The German kid obviously has no ethnic lobby, no 'German Congressional Caucus" working for him. It reminds me of the big prosecution against Walmart (or their cleaning contractors) a few years ago for employing Eastern European illegals. I'm all for such prosecutions, but its strange that somehow they fall on a very unrepresentative sample of the actual illegals here.

Of couse, the Cubans are so organized that they actually influence US foreign policy, but they were unable to keep Elian Gonzalez in the country; maybe that disproves the point.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 04.04.06 at 11:50 PM [permalink]

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