Alex Nowrasteh‘s latest policy analysis on guest worker programs has just been published by the Cato Institute and can be accessed here on the Cato Institute website (here’s the direct link to the PDF). Alex makes many similar points to what I made in a blog post a month ago replying to Daniel Costa, but he also includes some historical background and other details that make for more compelling reading. Among the historical precedents he references is the case of Metics in ancient Greece, which my co-blogger Nathan blogged about half a year ago. He also has an interesting description of how “worker abuses” have been carried out not just by private firms, but by government bureaucrats, and how more flexibility on the part of workers to change jobs and less government discretionary authority can help curb these abuses. Here’s how he puts it:
Abuse is not confined to firms. Some of the worst abuses of guest workers have occurred at
the hands of government employees. During the Bracero Program, Department of Labor (DOL) inspectors often slapped, berated, and cursed at Braceros for asking questions. According to one eyewitness: “Nobody had any patience. Immigration, Public Health, Labor Department—it’s all the same. Everybody curses at the Braceros and shoves them around.” Violence and abuse perpetrated by government inspectors and bureaucrats was endemic. The Braceros were frequently humiliated, but as one observer recalled, “migrants usually just stood there and took the abuse–what else could they do–they felt pretty bad about it. I must have seen a lot of Braceros cry after they were talked to in this way.”
Abuse by government bureaucrats has diminished over the years or become stealthy, but the entire problem could be removed by contracting out, licensing, or just relying upon private companies to carry out inspections, recruitment, health checks, and other guest worker functions. Visa portability that lets guest workers change jobs with a minimum of paperwork or notice to employers as long as the worker notifies the government after the fact deprives abusive employers of employees, incentivizes good behavior, and acts as an enforcement mechanism that punishes employers who do not treat employees as well as competing firms. Visa portability allows workers to regulate their own work environment or change it at will.
Read the whole policy analysis (direct link to PDF).
13 thoughts on “Alex Nowrasteh’s new policy analysis of guest worker programs”
Alex makes an interesting point about Operation Wetback, which restrictionists love to praise as proof that “tough enforcement” can work — it only worked because the legal system provided a legal entry point for those acting in good faith:
“By the early 1950s many unauthorized migrants were entering alongside Braceros to work, mainly in Texas. The government responded with the now infamous Operation Wetback that removed almost 2 million unauthorized Mexicans in 1953 and 1954. Unlike today’s removals and deportations, the migrants were only required to step over the border into Mexico and could then step back in and lawfully sign up for the Bracero program. As a result, the number of removals in 1955 was barely 3 percent of the previous year’s numbers and those who previously would have entered unlawfully instead signed up to become Braceros, which was the intended purpose of Operate Wetback. The government did not tolerate unlawful entry but made it very easy for migrants to get a guest worker visa and used Border Patrol to funnel unauthorized migrants and potential unauthorized migrants into the legal system.”
Kicking people out, as modern restrictionists suggest, without any provision for permitting good-faith entry — just putting these people “at the back of a line” that literally stretches for decades in processing time — doesn’t seem likely to work without further proactive, ongoing, punitive measures. Short of erecting a real Berlin-style wall along the border or erecting a feasible legal entry point for those acting in good faith, deporting millions of people will do essentially nothing to prevent further illegal immigration.
This page says that Operation Wetback removed more people than the peak number of Braceros. The Bracero program required higher wages and other standards, limiting demand, thus the pressure to come illegally.
“The INS launched “Operation Wetback” in June 1954, under which INS and local law enforcement authorities removed 1.1 million Mexicans in FY54…Farmers were encouraged to join associations that pledged to hire only “legal Braceros,” and their number peaked at 445,200 in 1956, as Braceros spread to new states and crops when DOL began to accept farmer assertions that there were labor shortages.”
So of all the people proposing Operation Wetback Redux, how many are also proposing a Bracero Part Deux that would take back proportionally 40 to 50% of those kicked out? How many are proposing a a fix to the status quo condemning anyone deported to a legal limbo where waits for legal re-entry are measured in years or decades?
“Bracero Part Deux that would take back proportionally 40 to 50% of those kicked out?”
If you’re deriving those percentages from the numbers above, that suggests assuming there were no braceros at the time of Operation Wetback, which is obviously false. 30 seconds of search reveals a table of bracero numbers:
The 1953 number was 200k, 1954 300k, 1955 400k, 1956 450k, with declines after that.
That looks like the great majority of people, 75%+, deported in Operation Wetback did not come back as braceros.
So in 1954 each person taken into custody and deported led to almost an order of magnitude more self-deportation (given the alternative of deportation by the US):
“By September, 80,000 had been taken into custody in Texas, and the INS estimated that 500,000 to 700,000 had left Texas of their own accord.”
As discussed in the parent comment, at least 75% (and probably more, not all new braceros would be deported people) did not switch over to bracero status. And there is little evidence that a smaller bracero program would have much changed things if most did not return anyway.
The U.S. government deported some 400,000 people in 2012 (probably in part to blunt restrictionist criticisms before the elections and to weaken opponents of immigration reform including amnesty):
Those deportations were limited by White House policy not to target the general illegal immigrant population, and thus did not invoke the same self-deportation as in 1954.
But these facts taken together paint a picture in which a temporary scale-up of immigration enforcement and deportation to a few times current levels would lead to the deportation and self-deportation of most of the US illegal immigrant population, who would mostly not rush to return if they expected continuation of the policy.
So I would say that the restrictionists are quite reasonable in thinking that scaled up deportation would indeed drive down the illegal immigrant presence in the U.S. by a very large percentage, if undertaken by a federal administration pursuing that result (which has not been the aim of any administration for half a century), even in the absence of an unlimited scope guest worker program.
Even if we made the weird assumption that the existence of the bracero program, used by less than 1/4 of the deported people in succeeding years, was essential and effective in preventing the return of the other 3/4, the current illegal immigrant population could be shrunk from 10 million+ to, say, 3 million by deportation followed by a guest worker program with quotas much smaller than the current illegal population.
I wrote a while back here that attrition through enforcement does work, and could be a way of cutting down migration *if* citizens are willing to put up with the collateral damage. See here:
“Even if we made the weird assumption that the existence of the bracero program, used by less than 1/4 of the deported people in succeeding years, was essential and effective in preventing the return of the other 3/4, the current illegal immigrant population could be shrunk from 10 million+ to, say, 3 million by deportation followed by a guest worker program with quotas much smaller than the current illegal population.”
I think this assumes:
1. The social and demographic composition of unlawful immigrants in the 1950s US and the modern US are not meaningfully different
2. The legal framework w.r.t. borders then and now are not meaningfully different
#2 is plainly false, since the legal system then harboured less prejudice towards those who had previously been deported, and wait times for visas/border processing were also (I am almost certain) shorter than they are today. #1 I am skeptical on, but can be convinced; Pew suggests that 2/3rds of the unlawful immigrant population today have been settled for over a decade. Half are parents of minors (many of whom are US citizens). I can’t imagine it being terribly easy to convince a population like this to self-deport, although I’m open to being persuaded. See: http://www.pewhispanic.org/2011/12/01/unauthorized-immigrants-length-of-residency-patterns-of-parenthood/
“That looks like the great majority of people, 75%+, deported in Operation Wetback did not come back as braceros.”
I’m not focused on the specific magnitude, just the fact that a significant minority came back legally. How happy would Operation Wetback II advocates be today if preconditions for their operation included:
1. No barriers to legal re-entry for good faith (i.e. no history of criminal activity) immigrants that have been deported
2. A new guest worker programme that would let a significant proportion of those deported re-enter legally almost right away
On #1, note that by law, right now anyone deported has a minimum period they must wait (I believe 10 years, but it might be somewhat lower) before they can reapply for entry, a process by itself that takes a significant amount of time, also measured in years.
My understanding is that restrictionists are divided on the issue. Some, like Mark Krikorian of CIS, take a “progressive” stance against guest worker programs, i.e., reject such programs giving progressive reasons.
On the other hand, Peter Brimelow had in the pastsaid that a Bracero-style program might smooth the transition from the current immigration “disaster” (his word) to closed borders. Brimelow may well have changed his mind now. Here’s Brimelow in Alien Nation (full text):
I don’t know if Brimelow would accept the idea of recently deported people being eligible for guest worker programs, though.
This suggests that legalizing migration flows for farm work could reduce these flows considerably in magnitude (and moreover, workers have strong incentive to return). I’m skeptical of that, but it’s plausible applied to the narrow category of farm work. If so, restrictionists should be very supportive of the renewal of Bracero-style guest worker programs, or modern equivalents thereof. To my knowledge, however, restrictionists have generally opposed these programs (with some notable exceptions).
“This suggests that legalizing migration flows for farm work could reduce these flows considerably in magnitude ”
The bracero program was around before and after Operation Wetback. The major change was an increase in deportations, not legalization (although there was some loosening of bracero rules, they were obviously still restrictive enough that most deportees didn’t return as braceros). So where’s the evidence for your claim in the history?
“To my knowledge, however, restrictionists have generally opposed these programs (with some notable exceptions).”
Similar arguments are made by drug legalization advocates that drug consumption would fall after legalization, i.e. that one can decrease purchases of a good by hugely lowering its price, enabling open advertising (when many are currently unable to locate the product), introducing guarantees of product safety, and removing large personal risks for sale and purchase.
These arguments strike most people as obviously disingenuous. Probably restrictionists likewise mostly believe in the Law of Demand, and thus don’t offer proposals based on its counterpart in Htrae:
However, it’s not obvious that Alex was making this Law of Demand reversal claim. The passage reads as though he (mistakenly, it seems) believed that the deported people mostly returned as braceros.
Okay, good. As I pointed out, I would be quite skeptical of the claim that legalizing migration would reduce migration flows (definitely, I wouldn’t claim that) but it seemed like you might be saying that. I’m glad we’re agreed that that’s quite unlikely (it would certainly contradict everything else we say on the Open Borders site if it were true).