THE GREAT PROMISE of immigration reform is that it offers the opportunity for millions of illegal immigrants to join mainstream society. The greatest threat to that promise, in the bill as it stands, is a proposed guest worker program that would codify a permanent underclass.
A viable guest worker program should ensure a steady supply of labor for jobs not filled by Americans, provide for safe working conditions and fair pay and offer the potential for advancement that is the reward of diligence. But the bill seeks to reap the benefits of immigrant labor without giving enough back to those who would offer it. One provision, for instance, would force workers to leave the country for a year after two years of working and before asking for the chance to work again. That would be a pointless burden on employers and, especially, employees who would be forced to repeatedly pull up roots two years deep.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) intends to propose an amendment eliminating the one-year absence rule. Rational people will support it. Better still would be to offer a way for guest workers to pursue legal permanent residency. Such a plan was included in last year's failed immigration reform bill, and it's an idea worth revisiting, allowing employers to sponsor workers, or workers to sponsor themselves, for residency.