I’m not going to get involved in playing with the politics of immigration, but perhaps some history would be helpful. The Bracero program was started in 1942 due to a WWII concern that there was not enough manual labor to produce food. Working with the government in Mexico, the Farm Bureau contracted hundreds of thousands of “chili pickers” to work the fields. This number grew to over three to maybe five million. The extent to with they were abused or even paid is still a source of contention. The Bracero program ended in 1964 under pressures of illegal immigration, farm mechanization, and even charges of “illegal slavery” (source: www.farmworkers.org). Some might say that Bracero never really ended.
President Bush has a serious problem on his hands because he wants to expand the “guest worker” program, perhaps modeled after Bracero, yet strict conservatives want to stop all migration at the borders without semi-legal status for any migrant workers. Build a huge fence on the border; lock up criminal migrants; fine them and send them packing back home; send their employers to jail or fine them too. Oh, did I mention that churches that help illegal immigrants could be sanctioned as well?
The latest word is that Senate leader Frist will move a bill forward without any mention of an expanded guest worker program. However, there is a question of what to do with approximately 12 million migrants who are here already, many of whom do NOT have legal status. According to recent Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are a little over two million prisoners in federal, state, and local jails. The numbers of immigants is indeed bewildering. [Editorial note: have illegals build their own jails?]
The number of annual immigrants entering the US from Mexico is currently classified, as directed by Homeland Security, so the number of apprehensions and amnesty grants are not known. However somebody leaked information that about 45 percent of the migrants entered the US under the expectation of President Bush’s guest worker program (www.washingtonpost.com).
So it is a complex issue, and I wonder where all that “compassionate conservatism” has gone. The only thing that seems true is that everyone thinks they can control the situation with more and more legislation, which to me is far from what we learned in the past. Look for a good battle on the Hill...