Just How Temporary are 'Guest Workers?' Let’s Ask Their Grandchildren
Just How Temporary are 'Guest Workers?' Let’s Ask Their Grandchildren
by Mac Johnson
Posted Oct 24, 2005
In what a cynic would say was move to extricate himself from a “QuagMier” with his base, President Bush last week appeared to reverse course on illegal immigration. Apparently, he’s now against it.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff declared before Congress that:
Our goal at DHS (Homeland Security) is to completely eliminate the 'catch and release' enforcement problem, and return every single illegal entrant, no exceptions. It should be possible to achieve significant and measurable progress to this end in less than a year.
President Bush then reinforced this comment in a separate venue, stating:
We've got to work to ensure that those who are caught are returned to their home countries as soon as possible.
Before I go any further, just let me say that these statements are among the most welcome announcements from the Bush administration since it revealed that the first bomb had fallen on Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan four years ago. If the administration follows through on it’s promise, it will be a historic moment -- the moment that the overwhelming majority of the American people (Republican, Democrat, and Independent) finally had their wishes on illegal immigration acknowledged by their allegedly representative government. So, Huzzah! Hooray! And Halleluiah!
Now, unfortunately, I have to go further. It is a well-known fact that the last words of many a rodent have been “Look! Free Cheese!” So what is the potential trap upon which we find this enormous hunk of Immigration Cheddar? It is the fact that enforcement will be bundled with a so-called “Guest Worker” program.
Or, as Secretary Chertoff stated at the same Senate hearing in which he announced the administration’s new found sense of responsibility for law enforcement:
We're going to need more than just brute enforcement . . . We're going to need a temporary worker program as well.
First, let me say that we have no idea what “brute enforcement” can accomplish. We’ve never tried it. Right now we have “no enforcement.” So what do you say we start with pansy enforcement and work our way up to brute enforcement before we start bad-mouthing it? As a matter of fact, let’s declare December to be “National Brute Enforcement Month,” because I have really high hopes for it.
That being said, let’s look at just how “temporary” any proposed guest worker program is likely to be. This is not a subject we have to leave to our imagination either (like brute enforcement) because this idea has actually been tried in a very similar nation. “Guest worker” is a direct translation of the German term “Gastarbeiter.”
After World War II, Germany introduced a sweeping deregulation of its economy, that surprisingly (along with the “Marshall Plan” and Germany’s pre-welfare state work ethic) resulted in two decades of runaway growth, known in German as the “Wirtschaftswunder,” and in English as the German “Economic Miracle.”
In just a few years, Germany went from a nation of nearly total unemployment, a ruined infrastructure, and endless refugee camps for displaced Germans from the East, to a thriving nation whose growth seemed limited only by the number of workers it could lay its hands upon.
Labor shortages, of course, are a normal part of all economic expansions. Such wonderful problems have long been among the primary forces driving economic and technological innovations aimed at making existing workers more efficient. Such productivity innovations are a long-term phenomenon, however, and in the 1950’s Germany had recent experience with a much shorter-term solution to chronic labor shortage: imported foreign workers.
During the war, with manufacturing needs high and civilian workers in short supply, Germany solved the labor shortage by bringing in huge numbers of foreigners from the occupied territories -- some of them voluntarily, even. These workers significantly increased Germany’s strained wartime productivity. Those who survived Allied bombs and the moral expediencies of a wartime economy then promptly fled Germany upon her collapse.
Faced with the labor shortage of the Economic Miracle, Germany decided to simply revive the wartime practice, but with higher wages and fewer guards. To make the new program more palatable, they called the imported workers “Guest Workers”, rather than “Alien Workers” (fremdarbeiters) as they had been called during the war.
The idea was very appealing: the country would import large numbers of Turks, Italians, Greeks, Yugoslavs, Spaniards and Moroccans to cheaply do the jobs that “no German wanted to do.” Such impoverished foreigners would be happy as pie with piddly wages (by German standards) and then they would all go home after a few years. This second part was very important to the Germans, who had never been a nation of immigration and were rightfully proud of their long history as a distinct and continuous people.
So how did it work? Great -- right up until the part where the guests were supposed to go home. They didn’t. Employers became dependent on them and were reluctant to find and train replacements or adapt through innovation. And the workers found life as a janitor in Germany somewhat more attractive than life as a Goatherd in the backwoods of Anatolia.
So the employers and guests both fought for constant renewals and extensions and loopholes. The (very comfortable) guests then brought in their families at the first opportunity (or married other guest workers) and baby guests were born. Today, it has been forty to fifty years since the guest worker agreements were signed (depending on the guest-providing country in question), and the guests are still there.
There are two million Turkish guests, one million Yugoslav guests, half a million Italian guests, one third of a million Greek guests and a quarter million Polish guests, along with thousands of Moroccan, Tunisian, Middle Eastern, Russian, and assorted other guests. Guests are now 10% of Germany’s population. And many of these guests were born in Germany, being the children and grandchildren of Germany’s “temporary” workers from the fifties and sixties. Oh, and they’ve tired of the guest room, so they all expect to be made citizens now.
Germany was totally sincere in it’s original intent to have the guest workers be temporary, had no pre-existing pro-alien political lobby and no immigrant community for the newcomers to bond with -- and yet it has still not managed to be rid of its guests. So explain to me how America can ever make a guest worker program work. Especially since we grant citizenship to any and all that are born here, regardless of whether their mothers are here permanently, temporarily, illegally, or just visiting their guest worker husbands when the birth occurs.
An American guest worker program cannot work as anything other than a back-door amnesty for our current illegal aliens.
But, of course, that is the whole point of the program. Bush knows it. Chertoff knows it. And unfortunately for them, most conservatives know it.
Now, what was that part about brute enforcement again?