Memo To The President: Nothing Is More Permanent Than Temporary Workers

Our political élite is as

devoted as ever
—despite the events of September 11,
2001—to the ongoing abolition of America by continuing
mass immigration. Hence the new “amnesty” plan to
legalize three million or more illegal aliens. Amnesty
proponents have seized on a “guest worker” program as
the most politically palatable way to legalize as many
as possible of the millions of Mexican illegal aliens
already here, as well as the millions more who,
terrorism and recession notwithstanding, will join them
at the first opportunity. But some in the public policy
apparat are showing a degree of skepticism about
the mutual benefits of guest worker programs.

Foreign Affairs, the house organ of the
quintessentially establishment Council on Foreign
Relations, is a fairly reliable barometer of what
constitutes acceptable discourse among the liberal
foreign policy establishment. The November/December 2001
number includes a well-argued and convincing case
against guest workers by

Philip Martin of UC Davis

Michael Teitelbaum

of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

(“The Mirage of Mexican Guest Workers,”

80 FOREIGN AFFAIRS No. 6 at 117). Both writers have
federal government experience working on immigration and
labor issues. With this article, they have done their
country a great service. Their conclusion, though it
will not surprise VDARE.COM readers, may astonish
others: Nothing is more permanent than temporary

Martin and Teitelbaum, sketching the outline of
current amnesty/guest worker proposals, marvel that,

“The theoretical benefits
of temporary labor programs have seduced politicians in
many countries, just as they are now enticing the Fox
and Bush administrations. Many U.S. and Mexican
proponents seem surprisingly unaware, however, of the
long and checkered history of such policies, and quite
innocent of the unwanted effects they have produced in
both origin and destination countries. The negotiators
are advancing the discussions and making decisions with
a dangerously myopic perspective on their consequences.”

The authors note also what should be obvious to
everyone, though it seems to escape the Bush
administration`s notice: The Mexican government
through ever-increasing numbers, to increase its
political leverage in the United States.

They puncture the forced optimism of those who
proclaim a guest worker program a “win-win” scenario for
both countries:

“The only problem with
this “win-win” scenario is that it will not work. Bush`s
proposal ignores the fact that virtually no low-wage
“temporary worker” program in a high-wage liberal
democracy has ever turned out to be truly temporary. On
the contrary, most initially small (and often
“emergency”) temporary worker programs have grown much
larger, and lasted far longer, than originally

Among the strengths of Martin and Teitelbaum`s
reality check (their term) is its illumination of the
distortions of and drag on progress that a developed
economy suffers when flooded by a third-world workforce:

“History has shown that
in agriculture (where many Mexican guest workers would
be employed), a pool of cheap workers gives farm owners
strong incentives to expand the planting of
labor-intensive crops rather than invest in

labor-saving equipment
and the crops suitable for
it. Thus, although the labor supply is supposed to be
available only temporarily, farmers adapt in ways that
ensure their continued need for workers willing to
accept such low wages.

…[P]olitical leaders have
often belatedly discovered that admitting temporary
low-wage workers unnaturally sustains industries with
low productivity and wages, such as garment
manufacturing, labor-intensive agriculture, and domestic
services. In consequence, the economy`s overall
productivity and growth suffer.”

The Third-World economy that the guest workers leave
is likewise distorted by programs fashioned to
accommodate them in first-world countries:

“[P]articipants and their
families grow accustomed to the increased income; they
therefore have no incentive to return home unless rapid
economic and job growth there creates commensurate
opportunities. As the workers` “temporary” sojourns
extend over time, the odds of their ever returning to
their homeland diminish, and young people in the home
country come to regard employment abroad as normal. …
For the countries that send their surplus labor abroad,
the eagerly awaited worker remittances bring decidedly
mixed economic blessings: the country receives needed
capital, some of which is productively invested, but the
influx of cash drives up real estate prices, stimulates
conspicuous consumption of imported goods, and is
unevenly distributed. The remittances also tend to
decline over time, unless the number of new emigrants
continues to grow. So the source country earns capital
temporarily but loses many emigrant workers

Political disruption follows for both the sending and
receiving countries. The authors cite
Kurdish agitation
in many European countries in
response to the Turkish government`s arrest of Abdullah
Ocalan as an example of how immigrants become activists
in their new residences against their home governments,
with all the diplomatic friction that results.

In the case of Mexican immigrants to the United
States, of course, the problem is the opposite: Masses
of them may be expected to agitate against the United
States, with the collusion of Mexican officials. Already
we see the Mexican government acting openly in the
United States to subvert U.S. immigration law, at least
in its application to Mexicans. Examples include such
societal sabotage as providing

“survival kits”
for would-be illegal aliens having a
go at the border, the

matriculas consulares
issued by Mexican
consulates in the United States to provide bogus
identification to illegal aliens already here, and the
publication in California`s Spanish-language press of
the “10 golden rules” for how to avoid la migra
by the Mexican consul in San Francisco.

Martin and Teitelbaum expose immigration`s role in
the transfer of welfare recipients, legally arrived or
not, from a poor country to a rich one:

For the host country,
the permanent settlement of guest workers also tends to
require greater spending on social services than the
government initially anticipated. Many workers find
ways to bring their families to join them, creating a
large pool of poorly paid and often undereducated people

[Of course, the U.S. government`s willful

misreading of the 14th Amendment
confer U.S. citizenship on any child born on U.S. soil
contributes immeasurably to making the United States a
magnet for illegal aliens from all over the world.]

They, along with any children born in the host country,
require government-financed services such as public
[in Spanish, and soon enough in

and Quiche as well!] and health care. In
the United States specifically, the settlement of
millions of Mexicans would increase the numbers of U.S.
residents who lack health insurance and rely on

publicly financed clinics
and other safety nets
[Hasn`t it already?]

It is hard to avoid the inference that all Mexico
loses in the transfer (and it is not a loss to
underestimate) is the strong backs of its peons, while
the United States pays a far higher economic and social

Martin and Teitelbaum take a hard look at the last
official U.S. guest-worker program for Mexicans, the
program of 1942-1964 that is so often touted
by immigration enthusiasts as the example of how well
such things work. They find it a failure in almost every
respect, not least in curbing illegal immigration:

Far from mitigating
illegal immigration, the two countries` last major
temporary worker program actually initiated and
accelerated its flow.
During the so-called


(“strong-armed one”) program from 1942 to 1964,
the number of unauthorized Mexicans slipping across the
border actually expanded in parallel with the number
of authorized temporary workers; the illegal flows then
continued to accelerate after the program`s termination


Not surprisingly, agricultural producers soon felt
themselves dependent on the supply of cheap foreign
labor and lobbied fiercely for its perpetuation.
Throughout the bracero period, however,
unemployment rose steadily among U.S. farm workers:
Despite the enthusiasm of agricultural interests,
America finally summoned the political will to end the
bracero program. Between 1964 and 1970 illegal
alien apprehensions along the Mexican border fell by
more than 50%.

But the respite was short-lived. As those who rule
America abandoned their duty to defend the cultural
coherence of their country, penetration of its borders
by illegal aliens began to grow again in the 1970s.

Martin and Teitelbaum make clear that the deleterious
effects of the bracero program did not end with

Today, scholars largely
agree that the 22 years of bracero employment
created the conditions for the subsequent boom of
unauthorized Mexican migration. To minimize
transportation costs, U.S. employers had encouraged
prospective bracero workers to move to Mexico`s
sparsely populated northern region, thereby swelling
Mexican border cities that offered little local
[The authors do not mention how this
began the

of centuries-old villages in Mexico`s
interior, a process that wholesale emigration to the
United States has exacerbated. There is a reason
Mexico`s north was sparsely populated: it is mostly
desert, and far less hospitable than the country`s
highland core farther south. If any Mexican politician
or intellectual protested this exploitative disruption
of his country`s population, the authors do not say so.]

Meanwhile, workers seeking American jobs had learned
that they could save the large fees and bribes normally
paid to bracero recruiters in Mexico by simply
crossing the border illegally.
[That is to say, in
order to avoid criminals, they became criminals
Blending in with the legitimate
, they could then find a job on their own
and eventually get a U.S. work permit.

The bracero program drove another change in
the United States` Mexican population:

[E]ven though real wages
[California]`s farm workers barely rose,
factory wages increased significantly. Mexican-American
farm workers responded by moving to urban areas with
better-paying jobs, thereby increasing farmers` avowed
need for more imported braceros.

Bracero proponents, then as now, wailed about
the disasters to come if their cut-rate labor supply
should be cut off. California truck farmers spread
apocalyptic visions of unpicked crops rotting in the
fields. Martin and Teitelbaum expose this propaganda for
the nonsense it was (and is today):

Reality, however, never
confirmed these dire predictions. In 1960 some 45,000
farm workers (mostly braceros) had harvested 2.2
million tons of processing tomatoes. By 1999, it took
only 5,000 workers to operate machinery that harvested
some 12 million tons. Thanks to the efficiency gains

, the real price of processing tomatoes
declined 54 percent while per capita consumption rose 23

American workers benefited from the braceros`

The rise in farm workers`
wages following the bracero program`s termination
also showed how much it had depressed wages. In 1966,

César Chávez
and his fledgling United Farm Workers
union won a 40 percent wage increase from table grape
growers in the San Joaquin Valley of California who
could no longer use braceros to counter the
union`s strike
. [But:] These economic
gains were later lost as the size of the unauthorized
farm worker population soared

The demographic distortion and, indeed, expulsion of
American labor continues:

Today farm lobbies
routinely report “farm worker shortages,” yet the
unemployment rate in the country`s primary
labor-intensive agricultural region, the Central Valley
of California, is exceptionally high–12 to 15 percent in
June 2001–compared to the national average of between 4
and 5 percent.
Indeed, even as labor shortage
claims resonate in Washington, Central Valley officials
are actually

offering money
to welfare recipients who agree to
move to other states.

Martin and Teitelbaum give a thumbnail summary of

Germany`s experience with admitting guest workers
showing how programs intended to provide manual laborers
for a year or two have led to a large, permanent
non-German population, one with very high rates of
unemployment and welfare dependency. Despite efforts by
the government actively to discourage immigration for
the purpose of family reunification—the opposite of
American policy—Gastarbeitern arrange
successfully to have their families join them. Few,
naturally, intend ever to return to Turkey.

The authors observe that none of the proposals being
discussed in Congress acknowledges the negative results
of the bracero program or those of the

disastrous amnesty of 1986,
which Americans were
assured would end the plague of illegal immigration for
good. This “Amnesty to End All Amnesties” legalized 2.8
million illegal aliens by applying proofs of eligibility
so loose that Martin and Teitelbaum estimate that
perhaps half of the successful claims for legalization
were fraudulent, often flagrantly so.

The notion underlying the 1986 amnesty (unsupported,
naturally, by logic or experience) was that legalizing
migrants and controlling the flow across the border
could boost declining farm wages. Employers would have
to pay the newly legalized aliens more to keep them on
the land, as they could now pursue more lucrative
employment elsewhere in the U.S. economy. But the continuing
failure to police the borders gutted the (probably
flawed) premise of the amnesty:

[T]he law`s ineffective
enforcement provisions allowed more unauthorized
immigrants to enter the country and find farm work.
Within a decade most [legalized farm workers] had left
agriculture for better-paid employment, and more than
half of the farm labor force was again unauthorized.

So much for that bright idea.

Miller and Teitelbaum also point out why another
amnesty would again fail to hold agricultural workers on
the land, or prevent illegal immigration to replace the
guest workers who leave agriculture. A prerequisite for
the success of any such scheme is the federal
government`s ability to prevent illegal aliens from
buying fraudulent documents of the sort that allowed so
many illegal aliens fraudulently to claim amnesty in
1986. As we all know, the federal government has failed
utterly to shut down the supply of bogus papers. With
the Mexican government now issuing matriculas
in the United States to Mexican illegal
aliens with the purpose of “proving” their legality, and
supine American local governments willing to accept
these rather than risk having to enforce the law, the
task is now far more difficult. In any event, the Bush
administration lacks the political will to tackle the

While the authors concentrate on the economics of
guest worker programs, they do at least touch upon the
political dimension by asking why such self-evidently
harmful proposals are so popular today. Bravely, they
even suggest an answer:

“[One] explanation for
the current vogue of temporary labor programs is the odd
nature of immigration politics in the United States.
Choices about immigration have long been controlled less
by logic than by unorthodox coalitions that bring
together otherwise antagonistic regional, ideological,
economic and other ethnic interest groups. … Both
[Democrats and Republicans] imagine that their support
for such policies will win them additional supporters
among current citizens and the legalized Mexicans who
will seek naturalization. Conservative proponents
believe that regularization or legalization would
increase the number of voters who favor their social and
cultural values, such as dedication to religion,
opposition to abortion, and reliance on the self and
family rather than on government. Meanwhile, their
liberal opponents anticipate a swelling of their own
political constituencies with supporters of such issues
as income redistribution, labor rights, and affirmative

Allan Wall
and others have offered plenty of
evidence for why the Democrats` is the better bet. The
immigration and naturalization of

large numbers
of Mexicans is probably the quickest
way imaginable to place the federal government

in the hands of the Left (to the extent
it isn`t there already), although Martin and Teitelbaum
fudge the point in their generally admirable article.
(They did have to get it published, after all.)
Still, they are willing to say this:

The politics of
immigration policy is … being driven by small,
concentrated, and well-financed interest groups that
stand to gain significantly in the short term.

That is, by

ethnic lobbies
, some

, and one

foreign government

Martin and Teitelbaum refute the presumption that the
United States cannot provide American workers to do the
jobs illegal aliens do now. It has arisen, they argue,
only as a consequence of our government`s failure to do
its duty and enforce the immigration laws. As in the
case of California farmers and braceros, the
degree of dependence on Mexican workers is a function of
their availability–and today their availability is
essentially unlimited.

The authors offer common-sense proposals for how to
reduce dependence on illegal aliens:
enforce the legal
prohibitions against employing them, while ensuring that
employers in the low-income employment sectors where the
aliens cluster abide by minimum-wage and
working-condition regulations. Just as important, they
advocate ending legislative perversities that favor the
employment of foreigners over Americans. As they note,
the tax code provides an incentive to hire temporary
workers by exempting their wages from Social Security
contributions and unemployment taxes, allowing the
“temporary” migrants to undercut Americans` wages and
working conditions. 

Without … an equalization
of economic incentives, employers will learn to exploit
the rules of any guest worker program just as they have
exploited the supply of unauthorized migrants, and they
will cease to look for alternatives involving domestic
recruitment or investment in more efficient production.

“The Mirage of Mexican Guest Workers” is

not very forthright
in its choice of terms (the
authors regularly eschew the words “amnesty” and “illegal
” in favor of “legalization” and “undocumented
migrant.” Nevertheless, those who care about the rapidly
blurring character of the American nation will find much
cold economic argument in it to deploy alongside
cultural and social arguments against continued

Martin and Teitelbaum get the last word here. I quote
from the conclusion of their article:

The terrorist attacks of
September 11 force a rethinking of U.S. policy on the
admission and residence of foreign nationals, policies
that are neither well designed nor effectively enforced.
As the country begins to free itself from the disorder
of current immigration policies and to consider what
changes would be constructive and sustainable,
policymakers must understand that proposals for new
guest workers and legalization policies for unauthorized
immigrants would resolve none of the current problems.
They would only make the situation a great deal worse.

In many countries, under
many types of government, and across many time periods,
experiences with guest worker programs have led to an
overwhelming and simple consensus among those who have
studied the issue: there is nothing more permanent
than temporary workers

Pretty strong stuff—especially when you stop to
consider where it`s coming from.

January 11, 2002