How Temporary are 'Guest Workers?'
Let’s Ask Their Grandchildren...
[by Mac Johnson] 10/25/05
In what a
cynic would say was move to extricate himself from a “QuagMier” with
his base, President Bush last week appeared to reverse course
on illegal immigration. Apparently, he’s now against
Security Secretary Michael Chertoff declared before Congress
at DHS (Homeland Security) is to completely eliminate the 'catch
and release' enforcement problem, and return every single illegal
entrant, no exceptions. It should be possible to achieve significant
and measurable progress to this end in less than a year.
Johnson is a freelance writer and biologist in Cambridge,
Mass. Mr. Johnson holds a Doctorate in Molecular and
Cellular Biology from Baylor College of Medicine. He
is a frequent opinion contributor to Human
Events Online. His website can be found at macjohnson.com [go
to Johnson index]
President Bush then reinforced this comment in a separate venue,
We've got to work to ensure that those who are caught are returned
to their home countries as soon as possible.
Before I go any further,
just let me say that these statements are among the most welcome
announcements from the Bush administration
since it revealed that the first bomb had fallen on Al Qaeda
camps in Afghanistan four years ago. If the administration follows
through on it’s promise, it will be a historic moment --
the moment that the overwhelming majority of the American people
(Republican, Democrat, and Independent) finally had their wishes
on illegal immigration acknowledged by their allegedly representative
government. So, Huzzah! Hooray! And Halleluiah!
I have to go further. It is a well-known fact that the last
words of many a rodent have been “Look!
Free Cheese!” So what is the potential trap upon which
we find this enormous hunk of Immigration Cheddar? It is the
fact that enforcement will be bundled with a so-called “Guest
Or, as Secretary Chertoff
stated at the same Senate hearing in which he announced the
administration’s new found sense
of responsibility for law enforcement:
We're going to need more than just brute enforcement . . .
We're going to need a temporary worker program as well.
First, let me say
that we have no idea what “brute enforcement” can
accomplish. We’ve never tried it. Right now we have “no
enforcement.” So what do you say we start with pansy enforcement
and work our way up to brute enforcement before we start bad-mouthing
it? As a matter of fact, let’s declare December to be “National
Brute Enforcement Month,” because I have really high hopes
That being said, let’s look at just how “temporary” any
proposed guest worker program is likely to be. This is not a
subject we have to leave to our imagination either (like brute
enforcement) because this idea has actually been tried in a very
similar nation. “Guest worker” is a direct translation
of the German term “Gastarbeiter.”
After World War II,
Germany introduced a sweeping deregulation of its economy,
that surprisingly (along with the “Marshall
Plan” and Germany’s pre-welfare state work ethic)
resulted in two decades of runaway growth, known in German as
the “Wirtschaftswunder,” and in English as the German “Economic
In just a few years, Germany went from a nation of nearly total
unemployment, a ruined infrastructure, and endless refugee camps
for displaced Germans from the East, to a thriving nation whose
growth seemed limited only by the number of workers it could
lay its hands upon.
Labor shortages, of
course, are a normal part of all economic expansions. Such
wonderful problems have long been among the
primary forces driving economic and technological innovations
aimed at making existing workers more efficient. Such productivity
innovations are a long-term phenomenon, however, and in the 1950’s
Germany had recent experience with a much shorter-term solution
to chronic labor shortage: imported foreign workers.
During the war, with
manufacturing needs high and civilian workers in short supply,
Germany solved the labor shortage by bringing
in huge numbers of foreigners from the occupied territories --
some of them voluntarily, even. These workers significantly increased
Germany’s strained wartime productivity. Those who survived
Allied bombs and the moral expediencies of a wartime economy
then promptly fled Germany upon her collapse.
Faced with the labor
shortage of the Economic Miracle, Germany decided to simply
revive the wartime practice, but with higher
wages and fewer guards. To make the new program more palatable,
they called the imported workers “Guest Workers”,
rather than “Alien Workers” (fremdarbeiters) as they
had been called during the war.
The idea was very
appealing: the country would import large numbers of Turks,
Italians, Greeks, Yugoslavs, Spaniards and
Moroccans to cheaply do the jobs that “no German wanted
to do.” Such impoverished foreigners would be happy as
pie with piddly wages (by German standards) and then they would
all go home after a few years. This second part was very important
to the Germans, who had never been a nation of immigration and
were rightfully proud of their long history as a distinct and
So how did it work?
Great -- right up until the part where the guests were supposed
to go home. They didn’t. Employers
became dependent on them and were reluctant to find and train
replacements or adapt through innovation. And the workers found
life as a janitor in Germany somewhat more attractive than life
as a Goatherd in the backwoods of Anatolia.
So the employers and guests both fought for constant renewals
and extensions and loopholes. The (very comfortable) guests then
brought in their families at the first opportunity (or married
other guest workers) and baby guests were born. Today, it has
been forty to fifty years since the guest worker agreements were
signed (depending on the guest-providing country in question),
and the guests are still there.
There are two million
Turkish guests, one million Yugoslav guests, half a million
Italian guests, one third of a million Greek guests
and a quarter million Polish guests, along with thousands of
Moroccan, Tunisian, Middle Eastern, Russian, and assorted other
guests. Guests are now 10% of Germany’s population. And
many of these guests were born in Germany, being the children
and grandchildren of Germany’s “temporary” workers
from the fifties and sixties. Oh, and they’ve tired of
the guest room, so they all expect to be made citizens now.
Germany was totally
sincere in it’s original intent to
have the guest workers be temporary, had no pre-existing pro-alien
political lobby and no immigrant community for the newcomers
to bond with -- and yet it has still not managed to be rid of
its guests. So explain to me how America can ever make a guest
worker program work. Especially since we grant citizenship to
any and all that are born here, regardless of whether their mothers
are here permanently, temporarily, illegally, or just visiting
their guest worker husbands when the birth occurs.
An American guest worker program cannot work as anything other
than a back-door amnesty for our current illegal aliens.
But, of course, that is the whole point of the program. Bush
knows it. Chertoff knows it. And unfortunately for them, most
conservatives know it.
Now, what was that part about brute enforcement again? tOR
2005 Mac Johnson