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A 'guest worker' plan isn't a solution

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President Bush believes the US can curb illegal immigration by inviting in legal "guest workers." But the US has been down this back road before, and studied it several times. One commission's finding: The idea seems "attractive" but it's really "seductive."

That was the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, chairman of the 1978 Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy, testifying on Capitol Hill in 1981. He elaborated: "I can recall being very much entranced by [a temporary work program] when I first joined the commission. In the end, we were persuaded, after much study, that it would be a mistake."

A later commission, headed by the late Democratic congresswoman Barbara Jordan of Texas, agreed. Her group, which studied immigration for six years, rejected large-scale, low-skill guest-worker programs, an idea now being considered by the Senate. Her panel found such programs depress wages, adversely affect Americans (including new legal residents), can lead to worker abuse, and present large social costs.

Can the president, lawmakers, businesses, and presumably Monday's mass demonstrators come around to the same conclusion?

Supporters of Senate proposals that would allow at least 400,000 generally low- and un-skilled guest workers into the US each year argue that business needs a steady, legal flow of such workers for jobs "Americans won't do." These regular recruits, they argue, would reduce the number trying to enter the US illegally.


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