But for millions of illegal immigrants in the United States who are working
hard and earning an honest living, a red card could be a far more welcome
sight, allowing them to remain in the country — temporarily — without fear
of arrest and deportation.
|MAKE THEM LEGAL: By legalizing more guest workers with clean
criminal histories, the Border Patrol could focus on those who
are still trying to enter the national illegally for illicit
reasons. And good, honest workers would not have to risk life
and limb to make a living.
That’s the idea behind an effort to revamp America’s broken guest worker
program, which would grant literal red cards — to differentiate from the
“green card” given to immigrants with permanent residency status — to
immigrants who enter the country legally and want to stay for a limited
period while working to pay their own way.
“It’s not citizenship or a ‘path to citizenship.’ But you should be able to
come into the country if you want to work and fill jobs,” said Helen
Krieble, a businesswoman and immigration activist who runs the Vernon K.
Krieble Foundation, a nonprofit working to improve America’s immigration
To get a “red card,” migrant workers would have to pass a criminal
background check and have an employer waiting for them when they crossed the
border. Providing a channel for legal, short-term immigration for those who
want to take seasonal jobs — mostly on American farms – would, Krieble
believes, stem the flow of illegal immigrants.
She says the only people who would still try to cross the border illegally
would be those with criminal histories or other illegal goals — drug
smuggling or human trafficking, for example. The move would allow the U.S.
Border Patrol to focus on stopping the real threats to public safety.
Workers with a red card would be allowed to remain in the country for two
years — as long as they are employed the whole time — before reapplying to
the system and passing another background check.
The so-called Red Card Solution is a far cry from how the nation’s guest
worker permit program operates. The government grants 66,000 visas per year
for unskilled nonagricultural workers and another 65,000 for highly skilled
The government issues about 150,000 visas annually for temporary farm
workers — a number that doesn’t even come close to the estimated 2 million
seasonal workers on U.S. farms and ranches.
Thousands of Americans partake in guest worker programs in other countries
each year — mostly in Europe but increasingly in China and other Asian
nations, according to the U.S. Department of State.
ONE IDEA: Congress seems unwilling to act on immigration issues, but Helen
Krieble says some parts of an overall solution would be easy – starting with
a better guest worker program to give many of those who are already here
illegally a way to be legal, at least for the short term.
But the United States’ current policy for guest workers makes it almost
impossible for anyone to do the same here, the brief says.
Those looking to come to the United States for a temporary job face a stark
choice: spend the time and effort to go through legal channels to become a
permanent resident and seek citizenship, or enter the country illegally and
work under the table.
Since many would-be temporary workers have no intention or desire to stay in
the country permanently and become American citizens, they take the second
option. But that means dangerous border crossings, often facilitated by
unsavory smugglers and human traffickers, and the constant threat of capture
As for the current crisis at the border, in which thousands of children are
overwhelming federal authorities’ ability to take care of them, Krieble says
the issue is a symptom of a completely broken immigration system that lumps
good workers in with the bad and forces families to separate to survive. She
hopes the red card plan can be part of an overall solution.
But getting Congress to agree on a major overhaul of any part of America’s
broken immigration system is no easy task.
The Vernon K. Krieble Foundation, which Krieble runs, has spent the past two
years meeting with members of Congress and their staffs, so far with little
to show for it in terms of legislation.
That lawmakers are squeamish is
Newt Gingrich publicly endorsed the “red card” immigration plan
during his run for president in 2011, when he was at the top of the
Republican primary battle — two months later he was an also-ran.
[to top of second column]
U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., was widely seen as the House GOP’s
“point man” on immigration issues before he was ousted by an unknown
primary challenger earlier this year. That man, David Brat, used
Cantor’s views on immigration reform as an important part of his
campaign strategy, though most analysts seem to agree a variety of
reasons contributed to Cantor’s stunning loss.
But in a place where the top priority
is keeping your own job, even the suggestion that going out on a
limb for immigration reform could hurt a politician’s career might
be enough to keep most from trying.
Krieble and others working for her organization gave Watchdog.org
the names of several congressmen who seemed receptive to the “red
card” proposal. None of them, nor their staffs, were willing to
speak with us on the record about it.
Krieble says it’s foolish for Republicans to keep sitting on their
hands with this issue.
WILL CONGRESS ACT? Immigration reform is going nowhere fast in
Congress, but a fix to the guest worker program could potentially
break the stalemate.
“As long as (Republicans) do nothing, they are letting President
Obama win,” she said. “If they were to just move with a bill, they
would be able to stop Obama from going around and saying Republicans
don’t have any ideas.”
She maintains the proposal isn’t amnesty — a dirty word in many
conservative circles these days — because it improves on a system
that is already giving illegal immigrants de facto amnesty.
Still, conservative, anti-immigration groups such as the Federation
for American Immigration Reform have warned an unrestricted guest
worker program would undercut American jobs and workers’ pay. They
worry workers will simply over stay their visas and continue to
illegally work in the United States, instead of re-applying for a
On the left, some pro-immigration groups, such as the Immigration
Policy Center, have voiced concern the red card program would create
a new system of “indentured servitude,” because workers would be
unable to leave the job assigned to them without violating the terms
of their guest worker permits.
Krieble admits that the guest worker program doesn’t solve all of
America’s immigration problems but sees it as a key starting point.
Her proposal would give guest workers the right to have their
children taught in American schools and would let them access
emergency medical care. Because they would now be legal workers they
would pay taxes to support those costs.
Workers with a red card would not have access to most social
programs — Social Security, unemployment, welfare and the like.
“I look at it this way: If you have guests over at your house, do
you immediately add them to your health insurance policy? No, of
course not. But you’ll probably let them have some food and a place
to sleep,” she said.
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Eric is a reporter for Watchdog.org and former bureau chief for
Pennsylvania Independent. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where
he enjoys great weather and low taxes while writing about state
governments, pensions, labor issues and economic/civil liberty.
Previously, he worked for more than three years in Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania, covering Pennsylvania state politics and occasionally
sneaking across the border to Delaware to buy six-packs of beer. He
has also lived (in order of desirability) in Brussels, Belgium,
Pennsburg, Pa., Fairfield, Conn., and Rochester, N.Y. His work has
appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman
Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and
elsewhere. He received a bachelor's degree from Fairfield University
in 2009, but he refuses to hang on his wall until his student loans
are fully paid off sometime in the mid-2020s. When he steps away
from the computer, he enjoys drinking craft beers in classy bars,
cheering for an eclectic mix of favorite sports teams (mostly based
in Philadelphia) and traveling to new places.
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