This huge flow of illegal immigrants created a need for reform. If the issue of future immigrant labor is again avoided, then another flow of illegal immigrants over time might lead the US back to the same situation as today, and yet another major fight over reform in a decade or two.
But coming up with a consensus on how to regulate the influx of guest workers and other legal foreign labor is difficult – that’s why an immigration reform effort in Congress collapsed in 2007. Labor and industry couldn’t agree. Unions generally fear that too many guest workers undercut jobs and wages for Americans, while industry complains it can’t stay in business without this influx.
A bipartisan reform effort shaping up in the Senate includes future foreign workers. For this piece of the package to work, it must adhere to the following three broad principles.
First, both employers and potential immigrants need much stronger incentives to engage in legal rather than illegal immigration.
For employers, there must be sufficient numbers of legal immigrants available to them, and at wages roughly consistent with US market realities. For incoming workers, it should mean that legal status allows them to switch jobs when opportunities arise, and to apply for permanent residence and eventual citizenship. Thus, they aren’t trapped in exploitative working conditions, and employers are motivated to adhere to reasonable workplace standards.
Second, the competing needs of workers who are already US citizens, employers, and the economy must also be recognized.