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"We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws," Owens said. As he wrapped up, he thanked Allard for listening -- and asked him to pay particular attention to testimony that would be coming later from Helen Krieble.
Before she got her turn at the mike, other witnesses tallied the costs of illegal immigration -- without providing much of a solution.
Aurora's mayor testified that detaining illegal immigrants who've committed crimes is such a burden on his budget that he could have a couple hundred extra cops, firefighters and teachers if he didn't have to cover those costs. True, he said, the undocumented workers pay sales taxes -- but they'd pay a lot more if they didn't send so much of their money home to Mexico.
Mesa County's district attorney told Allard that 60 percent of the crystal meth that leads to gun violence, murder, child neglect and other petty and violent crimes in Colorado is coming from Mexican drug organizations that are crossing the same border that the workers sneak over.
When Krieble's turn finally came, she pointed out that most of those workers would prefer not to sneak across the border. They, like most Americans, want a safe, legal system. "This issue is polarized far beyond what is necessary," she said.
Krieble estimated that at least 85 percent of illegal immigrants are far from criminals and pose no threat to anyone. If that 85 percent had a way to come across the border legally, she pointed out, then the Border Patrol would only have to deal with the remaining 15 percent -- the drug smugglers, convicted criminals and possible terrorists. The U.S. could then secure the border with existing manpower and infrastructure; no 700-mile wall would be needed.
To make sure this country can get the large number of legal workers it would need, Krieble's plan calls for the private sector to run the guest-worker program, which would be licensed by the government much the same way a gun shop is licensed. Offices set up in Mexico would charge an employer and a potential employee about $500 each. They'd run a background check on the employee, and if it came up clean, the employee would get a secure guest-worker card within a day or two and be on his way to a job in this country, knowing exactly what to expect in wages and conditions.
The back of the guest-worker card would have a magnetic strip, much like a credit card, that employers and law enforcement alike could read to verify such basic information as the person's name, the specified location of his job, and how long he had permission to stay in the country. The card would also have the worker's photo and fingerprints, to combat fraudulent cards. For employers who don't have machines capable of reading the cards, a phone line could be set up to confirm a cardholder's authenticity.
The government's only role in the process would be licensing the providers of the cards, checking up on them to prevent criminal exploitation, and taxing them.
Workers would be allowed to bring their families along, and those family members would be eligible for services funded by the taxes that the workers paid. Workers would also have more rights and protections than they do now, Krieble said, because the shops would act as middlemen. If an employee has an issue with a boss, he can request a transfer to a different employer. If an employer is abusing workers, it can be reported to the employment agency, which will channel the complaint to the appropriate government officials. And if an employee commits a crime or disappears from the worksite, the employer could report it to police and/or immigration authorities.
Such a program would provide employers with access to as many workers as they need, since the government would no longer limit the number of seasonal workers. Instead, that cap would be set by the market. Some years there might be 50,000 new guest workers; other years there could be a million. Competition between profit-driven agencies would ensure a fast, safe way to import cheap labor on a regular basis.
But before companies could import Mexican gardeners, nannies, cooks, maintenance men, waiters, bussers, field workers, housecleaners and construction workers, they'd first have to advertise those jobs to American workers -- partly to prove that no American is willing to do the work, partly to eliminate the under-the-table cash economy that currently exists.
"If you go to get a temporary worker, you are paying an enormous amount of money to bring them in. It gives the American worker every advantage in the world," Krieble said. "Who wants to go through all of that? Nobody. The only reason you would possibly go through all of that is you can't fill the job. People say they're taking jobs from Americans. No, they're not. It's that Americans won't do these jobs.
"And I'm sorry," she continued. "They say, 'Oh, yes, Americans will if you pay them right.' Well, you can't pay entry-level workers more than middle management. So let's get real about this. With entry-level jobs, the market is only able to bear a certain price."