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Failed Immigration Policies

Two armed American border guards confront a group of immigrants attempting to cross illegally from Mexico into the United States in 1948. In A Line in the Sand, Rachel St. John traces the history of the U.S.-Mexico border.

This is a Republican proposal and so there are a lot of problems with it. But not everything here is terrible. And it attempts to address a key issue. Employers need workers and there are lots of people wanting to come to the United States to work. It seems easy enough to connect this up except for the whole white supremacist nation thing. So it’s not happening. But still, some of this is worth considering.

States can innovate in three ways. The first — and probably the toughest — is at the federal level, through Congress. Recent bipartisan efforts in Washington, D.C., to address immigration and border issues fell through, but lawmakers made significant progress and suggest that reform is possible.

There is precedent for innovative congressional immigration policy that involves states. For example, in 2017, Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, introduced legislation that would allow states to devise guest worker programs for their expanding work forces.

The bill was modeled after Canada’s successful Provincial Nominee Program. In the Johnson proposal, states would require approval from the Department of Homeland Security and from a state legislature. Workers could even change jobs but would be required to remain in the. state where they are sponsored unless that state had a reciprocity agreement with other states.

he second option for innovation is through action by the president and his administration in the executive branch. The United States and other countries could establish a so-called global skill partnership, a bilateral migration agreement that would allow U.S. employers to train workers to obtain valuable skills; that training could be done either in the United States or abroad, and then workers could come to the U.S. states that need them. Creating a pathway for individuals to live and work in Iowa and other states would ease the burden on America’s asylum system. Moreover, it would allow employers to train people in a way that’s tailored to the specific requirements of their businesses.

In this sort of partnership, immigrants would receive job training and could choose to come to the states that welcomed them, or they could remain at home, stabilizing those economies and taking pressure off our borders. Governors, as well as business and educational leaders, could call for more vulnerable immigrant populations to be trained to fill specific local labor needs.

The third option is within the states themselves. Some states are taking control of immigration through licensing reform. According to a 2021 Nursing Education study, four counties in Washington State were among the top 15 in the nation with the highest primary care worker shortages. (Nationwide, the shortage is expected to reach up to 124,000 doctors by 2034.) The state passed legislation offering a limited license for international medical graduates to gain clinical experience. (This doesn’t interact with federal law, since it only affects refugees who are already in the state.) By revising these guidelines, Washington has licensed about 10 foreign medical providers. Together, those physicians have treated an estimated 20,000 state residents.

You might be surprised to see Governor Reynolds and Senator Johnson, both Republicans, leading immigration reform. But that is happening because businesses in states like Iowa and Wisconsin need workers. The Iowa Business Council has been pushing immigration reform for years to grow the state’s economy and keep employers in the area.

The main problem with guestworker programs is that they don’t give workers actual rights or a pathway to stay in the nation. If these programs did provide ways for people to stay in the United States, then it becomes something of a different conversation, though with a LOT to work out in terms of the details. The state option in promoting immigration is also interesting. This doesn’t come without some problems, primarily the brain drain from the Global South, though there’s probably not much anyone can do about that and I am not overly inclined to tell Indian doctors to stay out of the United States so they can work for peanuts at home. It’s a real problem. Forcing workers to stay in a single state is a complete non-starter and seems to be utterly unenforceable, though one can argue that in most states, there are a number of different industries for workers. But in Iowa, where we are really talking about meatpacking or agriculture, there is real potential for exploitation here.

The bigger issue though is the complete unwillingness of Republican elites, which the authors of this op-ed absolutely are, to understand that the core principle of their party is white supremacy, which is why this is all a non-starter. The Republicans who run Iowa are very unlikely to vote for some real immigration welcoming of any kind because they know their voters will punish them for it. So they write in what is essentially a publication with a liberal readership to seem reasonable. But until Republicans reject white supremacy as its core ideology (along with untrammeled greed of course), it’s pretty unlikely anything useful will happen. And all those Iowa farmers desperate for workers will keep voting for racist Republicans to represent them.

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