Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Congress looks to be heading for a deadlock on President Bush’s plan for guest-worker program, and that is exactly what a private-sector foundation is counting on so its plan can be considered.

“The role of government is to license and supervise policy and then outsource the implementation work, so we propose that the private sector be allowed to develop its own “smart card” database system for businesses to advertise for guest workers,” said Helen Krieble, president of the Colorado-based Vernon K. Krieble Foundation.

The first step, she said, is altering current terminology to conform to reality. Recent polling data show that 85 percent or more of aliens illegally coming across the border are not coming in to attain citizenship, but rather to work.

“You have to separate guest worker from immigration, because if you don’t, people get scared,” Mrs. Krieble said.

She said most illegal alien problems can be solved through some modification of existing law, but establishing a system for employers and workers is a large problem.

The private-sector initiative would establish a guest visa or smart card that would provide information as to the “location, employer, the job and the duration” of the job for a particular guest worker, as well as the worker’s photo and work history on the card’s code strip.

“There are many plans that incorporate such things, but this plan would be completely driven by the law of supply and demand,” said Greg Walcher, consultant to the foundation. “If there is no work, no one comes in.”

Private employment agencies would be authorized to issue these cards both in the United States, Mexico and in other countries taking applications for U.S. jobs after a background check — likely performed in the applicant’s native country.

The employers would post notices for jobs for which U.S. citizens have not applied with a private employment agency stating the job’s “location, duration and wages.”

No changes to the naturalization process would be needed; anyone who wishes to pursue citizenship would go through the current method. But those who don’t apply for citizenship would have to return to their host country when the job ends. They could then reapply when the job comes up again or be referred to a new job.

Mrs. Krieble said the simpler the policy, the better and that the answer is certainly not another morass of bureaucracy such as the Department of Homeland Security. Other issues such as border control, costs and other technical issues would still must be worked out, but she estimates that the plan could be operational in two years.

The proposal her organization has come up with has drawn some attention partly because it’s been done previously. During World War II, Congress created the Bracero program, which provided temporary work visas for about 5 million Mexican guest workers. The program lasted for 20 years and was abolished under pressure from worker and civil rights groups, who said the guest workers were being exploited.

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