Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The K-Street Conservative Guest Worker Program

I don’t know about you, but when I hear President Bush talk about a guest worker program for “jobs Americans won’t do”, it makes me cringe. I’d like to explain why.

One of many chapters of the Jack Abramoff/Tom DeLay scandal is the story about the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a U.S. Commonwealth in the eastern Pacific Ocean. As a quick review, over the last twenty years the CNMI has built a huge garment industry, almost entirely owned by big business tycoons from Asia, and staffed not by island natives, but by Filipinos, Chinese and Malaysians recruited under a “guest worker” program. These workers are paid $2-$3 per hour, under living and working conditions that are sub-par to U.S. standards. Even better for the Asian tycoons, the clothing made there and sold by major U.S. retailers is allowed to bear the “MADE IN USA” label.

During the late 1990’s, some members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, started to propose legislation to apply U.S. labor laws to the CNMI. Under the urging of the garment industry, the government of the CNMI hired Abramoff (using your tax dollars, by the way) to fight these efforts. Thanks to his usual well documented tactics and his relationship with DeLay, the legislation was blocked.

Here’s the scary part. In his book, “The K-Street Gang”, Matthew Continetti relates how the Houston Chronicle captured DeLay’s true feelings in a 1998 interview:

‘DeLay took on the Marianas’ cause as his own. On January 5, 1998, he declared he was opposed to any legislation that interfered with immigration to Saipan. Then he took things a step further. He said he thought the United States should adopt the Northern Marianas’ immigration laws – specifically, a “guest worker program” that provided one or two year visas to foreign laborers. The program, DeLay said, would allow “particular companies” to “bring Mexican workers in” for jobs in America. And those workers, DeLay continued, would be paid, “whatever wage the market will bear’.

Let me translate. DeLay favored a program for “particular companies” (read “big businesses with lobbyist ties to the Republican majority”) to bring in foreign workers for “whatever wage the market will bear” (read “sub-minimum wage”). Is this the vision the K-street conservatives have for America? It must be – since the de facto policy of the last decade has been to allow a substantially free flow of undocumented workers to enter our country.

Now you know why I cringe when the President talks about a “guest worker program”. If you want to know the vision these guys have for America, go re-read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

It took us several decades to create the immigration problem. It won’t be solved overnight. Democratic leaders in Congress, being compassionate folk, are justifiably fighting punitive policies that would punish undocumented workers for the failings of our government. But our Congressional leaders also need to remember traditional Democratic values of maintaining a living wage for Americans, and one of the ways we do that is to ensure reasonable limits on immigration of low skill workers. Knowing the desires of the President’s big business backers for low American wages, Congressional Democrats should be very skeptical about any guest worker programs proposed by the servants of big business that currently inhabit the halls of Congress.


At 10:25 AM, Blogger RightDemocrat said...

I agree. Guest worker programs are likely to harm poor and working class American families.


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