Building a wall, per se, won’t address what is really fueling a mass “illegal” immigration from south of the border.
America whether you won’t to admit it or not needs foreign guest workers especially when it comes to filling our collective stomachs and that of much of the world.
It is why the time is long overdue to address the extremely flawed United States program for seasonal agricultural workers. While there is no cap on visas, it is so slow and cumbersome that most employers needing seasonal labor they can’t fill from the ranks of citizens and those here legally turn to illegal workers. Agricultural industry sources estimate as many as half of the 2 million people employed seasonably on farms are in this country illegally.
More than 50,000 agricultural visas are issued yearly by the US. But using the legal process is far from a panacea. Besides being an inefficient bureaucratic nightmare the program on the Mexico side has been hijacked by questionable operators who swindle potential workers and will many times charge those trying to get here legally thousands of dollars to connect with an employer.
And nowhere is this a bigger issue than here in the San Joaquin Valley that grows the majority of this nation’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
So how do you get the right mixture of vetting to make sure criminals aren’t being let in, provide guest worker protection, and make sure that seasonal workers return home when their work is completed?
We might want to take a cue from Canada.
Guest workers from Mexico heading to Canada to work on farms don’t sneak across the border illegally or are left to their own devices once they secure a legal guest worker visa. They fly.
Canada has a direct agreement with the Mexican government. Workers leave Canada with money in their pockets and no one “jumps” the program to find employment elsewhere in Canada illegally. The seasonal agricultural workers all go home.
So how does Canada and Mexico do it?
The two governments work together to secure seasonal workers, fast track visas, establish pay, make travel arrangements and even assure health and safety standards for workers. Mexico also screens applicants based on skills, health, and education levels.
The program also has almost 100 percent compliance for workers to return to Mexico after toiling on Canadian farms. Canada’s guest worker program is open only to married men (those with young children are preferred). Also a portion of the wages the Mexican guest workers are paid are placed in a pension fund that they can only access by returning to Mexico.
Canada’s program forbids workers from consuming alcohol or even having female visitors. They essentially live in barracks. They work long days, sleep, and eat.
This, of course, doesn’t thrill labor advocates. They have criticized Canada for purposely isolating guest farm workers from the rest of society and essentially controlling their movements.
That isn’t all that unusual in the realm of guest workers. Over the years many programs in countries such as the Middle East that have used American guest workers have had similar requirements in place.
So how bad is the Canada-Mexico guest worker arrangement? More than 80 percent of the workers return year after year citing better work conditions than in Mexico as well as employers that are fair and look out for their health and safety. If they don’t, the Mexican consulate in Canada is quick to intervene.
Obviously Canada’s program implemented in the United States won’t resolve all issues. But it could be a step in the right direction in addressing four things that should concern everyone: The health and safety of guest workers, fair pay and work conditions for guest workers, the need for them to leave the country when their work visa expires, and not allowing any criminals entry into the United States.
As for those here illegally already filling countless jobs that the odds are extremely likely would go unfilled, they need to be given an option — start on a path to citizenship or be deported. The option of citizenship should not be allowed for those illegals convicted of a felony.
And as cold as this may sound, if they fear becoming citizens because they don’t trust the American government or they want to keep the option of remaining a citizen of Mexico, then that’s their problem. They should be deported but allowed the option to return to the United States legally through a visa program.
There should be no waving of a magical bureaucratic edict making their presence in this country legal.
At the same time, their requests for citizenship need to be processed within a year of applying. The horror stories of people waiting 10 years or more for a green card to be processed are unfortunately not all that rare.
What ails our immigration process whether it is for those seeking citizenship or guest worker status is a lethargic bureaucratic maze that needs to go.
It is no different than other federal government issues such as taking 10 years of review to get a simple permit issued to build a bridge across the San Joaquin River in Lathrop.
We can effectively address much of our immigration concerns if we wall off the existing bureaucratic maze, deport entrenched paper pushers biding their days until retirement from the District of Columbia, and put in place a 21st century vetting process.