Doors of perception
The controversy in the US over new immigration laws is unfortunate. As the US Congress ratchets up the rhetoric on immigration by pondering harsher immigration checks, thousands of people in cities across America are protesting against criminalising undocumented workers. Of particular concern is a bill passed by the House of Representatives last December that makes it a crime to help illegal aliens.
Of course, US lawmakers can’t be blamed for imagining the worst in a post-9/11 scenario and opt for new legislation to tighten homeland security. Going by the claims of immigration officials, with an estimated 750,000 people arriving each year, there are over 12 million illegal immigrants in the US: alarming statistics, no doubt, even for the world’s richest country. No wonder then that American legislators are considering a raft of proposals for dealing with the situation, ranging from building barriers and tightening border security to instituting guest-worker programmes and amnesty.
But having said that, Washington should be careful not to have a blanket policy for checking illegal immigration that could adversely affect policies for legal migration as well. President Bush certainly has a point in his surprisingly aggressive support for a temporary worker programme “to match willing foreign workers with willing American employers to fill jobs that Americans will not do”. For this would allow foreigners to remain in the US for a set period of time to carry out specific jobs. Mr Bush, of course, may have proposed this with an eye on November’s mid-term poll. But it still makes sense, as any immigration law focusing only on punitive measures would ignore the real demand for labour in the US economy. For the migratory population makes up a considerable chunk of the total US workforce, taking on jobs in anything from the agricultural and construction sectors to care for children and the elderly. So the effort should perhaps be to have a wider debate on the issue rather than criminalise unwanted aliens overnight.