Lots of Talk, Not Much Action
The fact that undocumented immigrants will continue to flow to the US from impoverished countries is as true as Americans fleeing Texas or Florida for states with sane government and better opportunities. This is a basic human inclination and will not be deterred anymore than wildlife are deterred from migration by fences, shipping containers or other man made barriers.
However, the advantage of immigrants is that they are human and can understand risks and rewards. What if the US were to offer rewards to change immigrant behavior. For example, a relatively simple fix might be to move asylum applications to the head of the line if an immigrant presents themselves at one of several established ports of entry. This might help cut down on the numbers trying to cross borders along areas not equipped to handle large influxes. Many will continue to cross at unsafe and/or ill equipped areas because the coyotes don’t care. Those immigrants should be immediately deported and told how crossing at established, acceptable ports of entry will benefit them.
Next, a worker program like the bracero program from 1942 should be revived and expanded. Right now, the US needs lots of workers in many industries beyond agriculture. Workers can start as farm hands but can be incentivized to learn English at a level of proficiency necessary to move up to better, more skilled jobs. Many of the egregious employer violations and fraud can be curtailed by using Customs and Border Patrol agents to police the employers, not the immigrants. The idea of expanding the old bracero program has been discussed many times but nothing has ever come of it because people remember and point to the shortcomings and outright fraud in the earlier programs. But, when does a large government program ever get implemented successfully, without mistakes or fraud on the first attempt. Employers and employees will both try to “game the system.”
For both sides, a “1 strike & you’re out” program can help keep problems in check. For immigrants, being found at work on a non-bracero program results in immediate deportation, “no ifs, ands, or buts.” For employers, the first time they’re caught engaging in illegal actions (under/non payment, hiring outside the program, illegal working conditions, harassment, abuse, etc) will result in a huge fine as well as automatic suspension from the program for 12 months. A second violation results in permanent exclusion from the program and, if the employer is caught hiring illegal workers, forfeiture of the facilities.
To encourage compliance, workers should be incentivized to learn English and a skill/trade of their choice. After 3 years in the agricultural program, workers who can pass a standardized English language fluency test can apply for jobs in industries for which they are deemed trained. Some may want to apply for construction jobs while others may apply for food services or hospitality positions. After 10 years in the program, braceros who have attained a proficient level of English, found work outside of agriculture and not been arrested for any felonies will be eligible for a “green card” and, assuming other conditions are met, a pathway to US citizenship after 5 years.
Last but not least, braceros should be protected from harassment, abuse, threats or other forms of retaliation by instituting an abuse hot line that can be used to report problems or request assistance. Worker protection must be a priority in any new bracero program.