The NYT declares that the temporary worker program contained in the immigration deal reached in the U.S. Senate is nothing less than "awful."
The agreement fails most dismally in its temporary worker program. “Temporary means temporary” has been a Republican mantra, motivated by the thinly disguised impulse to limit the number of workers, Latinos mostly, doing the jobs Americans find most distasteful. The deal calls for the creation of a new underclass that could work for two years at a time, six at the most, but never put down roots. Immigrants who come here under that system — who play by its rules, work hard and gain promotions, respect and job skills — should be allowed to stay if they wish. But this deal closes the door. It offers a way in but no way up, a shameful repudiation of American tradition that will encourage exploitation — and more illegal immigration.
I think the paper's editorialists have let their liberal impulses take command over the thinking part of their brains. I actually think (as I have written before) that a real temporary guest worker would be terrific. And the harder the temporariness constraint the better. I don't mind a wee bit if this makes me a Republican for a day. I have calculated that even a minor temporary guest worker program would generate greater benefits to the developing nations than all of the Doha trade agenda taken in its entirety.
The underclass that the NYT talks about are millions of workers from developing nations who would love to have the opportunity to work in the U.S., even if for a temporary program. And the temporariness is a good thing, not a bad thing: it allows others to take advantage of the same opportunity, and it enables home countries to benefit from the newly acquired skills and resources of the returnees. It also alleviates some of the social problems caused by long absences of parents from home.
The NYT says nothing about a real cause for concern, which is the potentially adverse effect on wages in the United States. But since trade barriers for labor services are so much steeper in today's world economy than barriers in goods, even a small amount of liberalization in this area promises huge income gains in aggregate. This is one important difference, which accounts for why I am lukewarm about trade liberalization, but enthusiastic about enhanced labor mobility. If you like free trade, you have got to love this one. Which is why the NYT stance is hard to understand.