||| Orcasional Musings by Steve Henigson
Back when I was a child, World War Two was going on, and all of our country’s farm workers had grabbed their guns and joined the fight to save the world. But we still needed the food that those farm workers should have been harvesting, so the US government initiated a “guest worker” program. We imported replacement farm hands—the so-called braceros, or “strong-armed ones”—from Mexico for the duration of the war.
When the war was over, the braceros went home again. But both they and the farm owners saw that it was economically advantageous to permit them to come to the US temporarily, to do the agricultural work that still wasn’t getting done. So for quite a while, from 1942 through 1964, those braceros came back, again and again. They came and went through a porous border, the only requirements being that there was work for them to do, and that they went home again at the end of the season.
But there was prejudice and social unrest in Texas over the braceros, and complaints from our unions that they were supplanting US farm workers, so the porous border was closed and the guest-worker program came to an end. But working conditions in Mexico were unsatisfactory at the time, especially compared to the opportunities presented by being even just a temporary worker on a US farm, so Mexican laborers began sneaking across the closed border. It was still pretty easy to do, and the US Border Patrol mostly turned a blind eye to this kind of cross-border traffic, so Mexican farm workers came and went fairly freely, and made themselves available in every state, all the way up to the Canadian border.
However, the US government’s immigration policy was extremely restrictive, even after the hard lessons learned from World War Two. There were strictly-enforced quotas, both upon incoming permanent residents who wished to become US citizens, and upon temporary workers who merely wanted to work here. Years could pass before an applicant might finally receive either a residence visa or a temporary work permit. And so it was that the US quota system finally caught up with the Mexican border crossers.
Part of the problem was that it wasn’t only Mexicans any more. There was social unrest throughout Latin America, and the people who were trying to escape it were all headed north. These refugees had left the dangers of their home countries to seek permanent residence somewhere safe, preferentially in the US. But the US quota system was in the way, so the only route to perceived permanent safety was through an illegal border crossing, illegal residency, and illegal employment.
Illegal immigrants now reside all around us. Is that a problem? Excepting the complication of their illegality, I suggest that it shouldn’t be. To a great extent, these immigrants are here illegally only because our government has made it excessively difficult to come here legally. In more lenient times, such as when my own ancestors arrived at both Castle Clinton (in approximately 1865) and Ellis Island (in about 1890), useful immigrants and guest workers were welcomed to the US as “new blood,” cheap industrial labor, and a hard-working population for still-unused farmland. The only requirements were a desire to work, and, in the case of citizenship, an understanding of the need to assimilate.
I suggest that the keys to ending illegal immigration are, now just as they were then, easier entry, a renewal of the bracero guest-worker program, and, for potential citizens, a requirement to assimilate. We will have to leave the issue of controlling drug trafficking to the border police, not to the immigration service. I believe that visitors and temporary guest workers (from just about anywhere) should be allowed to come and go as freely as possible, based merely upon competent instruments of identification. Since guest workers are proven, time after time, to take on the jobs that assimilated citizens refuse, there ought to be no rational economic objection from organized US labor.
Guest workers go home again at the end of the season, but others will prefer to become permanent residents working toward citizenship. For them, the main criteria are proofs of assimilation: fluency in English, knowledge of US history and politics, and an understanding of the US legal system. We need to resurrect the Americanization concept, since it is counter-productive to assimilation for us to espouse a politically-correct pseudo-tolerance for foreign languages and alien cultural traditions, external to immigrants’ homes or private, after-school ethnic instruction. For instance, a potential immigrant who prefers Sharia to the US legal tradition, or an election ballot printed in French, would better go elsewhere.
Guest workers who willingly commute back and forth, home country to the US, according to the working season, could always be welcome here. We need them. And potential citizens who are willing to assimilate wholeheartedly would also always find welcome in the US, but those who are not willing should be sent back upon discovery. There still is, after all, that five-year-residency proof period. After just a few years of this, there should be not one illegal immigrant left, anywhere in the US.