At a recent public event on immigration reform, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford made disappointing comments, suggesting that a guest worker program might provide legal redress for undocumented workers. The ACLU opposes merely expanding the existing guest worker program, which is riddled with civil liberties abuses. We call on our members of Congress to craft a broad path to citizenship that creates a level playing field for all eligible immigrants. Potential concerns with the "work-visa only" approach would be inadequate worker protections; the inability of guest workers to come with their family members; and the lack of promise of an eventual path to citizenship.
Our nation has been down this troubling road before with the bracero program of the 1940s and 1950s, which allowed tens of thousands of Mexican men to legally work in the U.S. in a host of industries that needed low-cost labor. The bracero program resulted in a shocking miscarriage of justice, with many participants forced to work in substandard conditions and many braceros being defrauded of their full wages.
Immigration reform is not only the right thing to do, but it is also essential to our economic well-being. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, legalizing undocumented immigrants would reduce the budget deficit by almost $850 billion over 20 years. Doing so makes fiscal sense and upholds our values as a nation of rights for all. Polls show that immigration reform with a path to citizenship is overwhelmingly supported by voters.
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Editor's Note: Middleton is the executive director of the S.C. chapter of the ACLU.