Discussion Puts Bush’s Temporary Workers Program in Perspective

Published: November 27th, 2006

Category: News

Program in PerspectiveThe constitutional, labor, and national security implications of President Bush’s temporary worker program was the focus of the Immigration Law Symposium held at the Levin College of Law Nov. 14.

Professors Diane Mazur, David Hudson and Juan Perea put the current debate over immigration in historical context, discussing past amnesty acts and the military’s role in the situation.

The event, which was sponsored by CaribLaw, Military Law Student Association and the American Constitution Society, drew a standing-room-only crowd that stayed afterward to continue the conversation over a Thanksgiving feast.

“There is a pre-existing conception of what Americans are supposed to look like, sound like,” said Perea. Perea took the position that, absent overpopulation, or high unemployment, there is no real “immigration problem,” despite much media commentary to the contrary.

According to Perea, although the concerns about immigration are rarely expressed in racial terms, the problem that many people seem to have with Mexican immigration is that the immigrants have brown skin and they speak Spanish, therefore threatening a pre-existing conception of the United States as a predominantly white and English-speaking country.

With regards to the guest worker program, he said, it was nothing new and had been done in the 1910s, 20s and 50s. Mexican immigrants come, and are invited to stay, because the United States is so dependent on Mexican laborers.

He pointed out that Mexican immigrants invited in during times of labor shortage were then expelled when the shortages ended. Mass expulsions of Mexican laborers occurred during the depression and after World War II to make room for American workers in the job market. Many U.S.-born American citizens, children of Mexican laborers, were expelled from the U.S. together with their parents.

“It is a cycle of invitation and expulsion,” he said.

Hudson said the immigration questions to be asked were whether they should be allowed to stay, and under what label, adding that the slate was unclear on the issue.

He spoke of previous amnesty acts that allowed those who had been here for at least five years to become naturalized, but denied naturalization to family members who were not in the U.S. with them. There are some good things that can be repeated and some things that can be changed, he said.

Mazur, who served as a captain in the United States Air Force, spoke about immigration concerns with respect to the military.

She spoke about the tension caused by dual state-federal command over National Guard forces. State governors may not want to assign these forces to border patrol, but federal law prohibits the President from federalizing them for that purpose.

Mazur supported Congress’ role in limiting the president’s power over state militia, saying, “We blur this very important civil military boundary that I think is implicit in the way the constitution was written.”