Guest Worker Proviso in Immigration Bill May be First to Die

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People across the spectrum are slamming the Senate’s new immigration bill (including us). It looks like a classic Washington compromise: in seeking to please everyone it ended up pleasing no one.

The first part of the bill to face the firing squad? The guest worker program. Two amendments have been introduced by Democrats — one seeking to kill the program entirely and one seeking to cut it in half.

As currently constituted, the guest worker program in the bill grants 400,000 visas annually to people who can work in the United States for three two-year stretches, provided they return to their home countries between stretches. It should be noted that the “return home” clause in the bill is a major vulnerability, because many immigrants simply don’t trust the government to let them back in, and have no intention of leaving the U.S. for any reason.

While the most virulent opposition to the bill has come from the far right, it should be no surprise that the Democrats are the ones working to end the guest worker program. Some Democrats showed cautious support for the guest worker program back when President Bush proposed it because it granted some immigrants the right to earn a living in this country, which seemed more progressive than the “throw them out!” alternative. But they knew full well that the guest worker program was (and still is) a sop to the GOP’s corporate friends. Big business is drooling at the idea of an underclass of workers who have few to no labor rights and push down wages for American citizens who do.

We’ll see if the guest worker program ends up in the final version of the bill — Senators want an acceptable revision ready before they head out for a week-long break for Memorial Day, but many senators haven’t even read the full bill. Oh, and the Republicans also have a shot at proposing amendments. Here’s a possible one:

No word yet what Republicans will offer as an amendment but Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, said Monday he’s hoping it will be his proposal to make English the official language of the U.S.

Update, one day later: The amendments have been defeated. We’ll keep an eye on what happens to the guest worker program as the bill moves forward.

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