Viewpoint- Bush’s Guest Worker Proposal: Good for Business, Bad for Workers

President Bush recently proposed a new temporary worker program, describing it as part of a scheme of “fair and secure immigration reform.” However, as observed by numerous immigrant and worker organizations, this program does nothing to meet the real and pressing needs of the millions of undocumented workers who live and work in the United States.

Bush’s proposal is centered on the needs of business, not workers, in the form of an extended “guest worker” program. Guest workers do not acquire any rights to live or work in the United States beyond their temporary employment with a particular employer.

The proposal does nothing to recognize immigrant workers’ participation in civil society and right to become part of the political process our country treasures.


“When no American worker is available and willing to take a job,” says Bush’s statement on the proposal, “the program should provide a labor supply for American employers.”

American employers are excited about the prospect of this labor supply. One agricultural employer in Florida told the press, “The jobs these people come and take are jobs Americans don’t want to have a sustainable, low-cost labor force is crucial for us.”

Responding to the proposal, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a Florida immigrant workers center, pointed out that it would allow many industries which offer substandard wages and poor (or no) benefits, such as meatpacking and fast food, “to circumvent the U.S. labor market altogether and import low-wage workers directly from countries far poorer than the United States,” rather than raise wages and improve working conditions.

Bush’s proposal also anticipates increased workplace enforcement of immigration laws. Rounding up, arresting, and deporting immigrant workers will not strengthen workplace protections, nor will it reduce the need for their labor.



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In fact, it is the threat of arrest and deportation that causes immigrant workers to remain silent about the abysmal labor conditions that affect all workers, immigrant and non-immigrant alike.

Moreover, since the proposal requires that workers be matched with a single employer, migrant farmworkers and day laborers will not be helped.


President Bush correctly observed that “[w]orkers who seek only to earn a living end up in the shadows of American life-fearful, often abused and exploited.” However, it will take meaningful reform to right this injustice.

“Without an opportunity to earn full citizenship,” the Service Employees International Union asserted in response to the plan, “eight million immigrant workers and their families will be at the constant mercy of unscrupulous employers.

“This proposal allows hard-working, tax-paying immigrants to become a legitimate part of our economy, but it keeps them from fully participating in our democracy-making immigrants a permanent sub-class of our society.”

Immigrant workers deserve a just and comprehensive legalization program that allows them the opportunity to become lawful permanent residents.

This should include legalization for workers currently present in the United States; wage and labor protections for new and established workers; family reunification provisions; and a path to citizenship for immigrants here and those to be admitted.

Amy Sugimori is a staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project who focuses on the labor and employment rights of immigrant workers.