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July 14, 2010


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It's Postville, not Pottsville.

Matt Lister

gah! Thanks- that was silly. I've fixed it.


"Many people who are, in most ways, pro-immigrant oppose guest-worker programs, often because they have in mind the worst excesses of the German experience with Turkish guest-workers. These fears are largely misplaced."

I think you fundamentally misunderstand the position of most immigrants' rights advocates who are against guest-worker programs as a matter of policy. Having worked extensively with guest-workers for more than a decade, I can tell you from first-hand experience that opposition has very little to do with fear of German/Turk relations. That may be your interpretation of the situation, or Prof. Chang's supposition, but since I'm pretty sure neither of you has actually spent any time in the fields or the farms with guest-workers, I'll take it upon myself to correct you since I have.

Guest-workers are exploited. They are brought here for their labor, they are given hollow "rights" under the federal program that their employers participate in to bring them here, and if they are injured they are often shipped back immediately to their country of origin (despite being eligible to file workers comp claims). The workers are told from the outset not to speak to legal aid lawyers, and fear retaliation if they do so. They cannot change employers, because their visas are only good for work with one employer, and if god forbid they are injured and sent back home, they (and potentially their entire family in their hometown) will be blackballed from future work as guestworkers because they "made trouble." And even when workers do this for years and years, coming back every season to cut trees and pick produce, they get no credit toward any kind of legal status for their non-immigrant work. It's not, in my opinion and in the opinion of many people who work in favor of immigrant integration, a good system by any stretch of the imagination.

I'm not sure what your idea of a "sensible guest-worker program" is, but I think it's myopic and inaccurate of you to couch opposition to guest-worker programs by immigrant advocates as some failure of reasonableness or some unfounded fear based on a troublesome European guest-worker model. I agree that reasonable people can disagree about the wisdom of guest-worker programs, but your overly broad assertion that immigrant advocates "have nothing to fear" from a reformed guest-worker program is, in my estimation, a statement borne out of ignorance of the reality of the situation guest-workers face. It really is more complex than you try to make it seem here.

I also find it interesting that you would post this today and make no mention of the big report that was just released this afternoon regarding exploitation of H2B crabpickers in Maryland. I can only assume you weren't aware of it, so I'm posting the link for you here:

Matt Lister

anon- Your criticism of current guest-worker programs are perfectly right. The current programs we have, especially for agricultural workers, are very bad and lead to a lot of abuse. But that's a reason to _reform_ guest-worker programs, isn't it? You'll note that I don't defend current programs. (I do tend to think that claims that most H2B visa holders are exploited is hard to make out, though some are.) In fact, man of the problems you mention have been addressed in proposes reforms- reforms the Obama administration is, sadly enough, not supporting. So, for example, visa portability (which you'll note I called for above) was included in some of the proposed reforms during the Bush administration, as was credit towards eventual permanent residence under certain circumstances. A slightly more charitable reading of the post would show that this is the sort of thing I called for, and that I'm not supporting the things you oppose, nor suggesting that many current guest-workers, including especially agricultural guest-workers, are not exploited. In fact, I think we are likely on the same side. And we should push to Obama administration to make common-sense and human reforms to guest-worker program part of his immigration reform package.

Thanks also for the link. I hadn't seen that. (I'd been thinking of the post since I read the NYT article a few days ago but only now had time to do it, so I'm not sure there's much "interesting" about it.) Again, it's strong evidence for what I call for in this post- a sensible guest-worker program- and not evidence against it.

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