A subject for debate

In January, President Bush introduced his immigration reform plan that could, if enacted, help the roofing industry tremendously. But the plan has caused fervent discussion among those most affected—employers and employees.

Bush supporters say offering undocumented workers temporary legal status enables the government to keep better track of immigrants, as well as provides a steady stream of willing workers to industries that rely on manual labor. Many legal U.S. workers avoid such jobs now because the pay is so abysmal; forcing undocumented workers out of the country undoubtedly would make employers pay higher wages as the U.S. population shifts to fill vacated jobs. And significant increases in pay for agricultural labor, for example, could have dramatic effects on the economy as produce prices skyrocket.

But some Bush opponents take issue with the fact that the proposal stipulates a worker must return home to collect a portion of his wages. The plan guarantees temporary legal status for at least three years until a job is done (the status is renewable) and is not a path to permanent residency. (Temporary legal status will neither help nor hinder a person from seeking citizenship or a green card—the designations would be mutually exclusive.) Once a worker no longer is needed for a particular job, he must return permanently to his home country to collect pay that was withheld as an incentive for him to return. According to the plan, wages would be diverted into tax-preferred savings accounts only collectable in workers' home countries.

The plan bears similarities to a program the United States used during World War II when few able-bodied males were in the country to perform manual labor. As a result, the U.S. government opened its borders to Mexico and urged Mexican men to work in the United States. The system had a provision that set aside 10 percent of workers' wages until they returned to Mexico. As of 2001, few workers have been able to collect their money, and a lawsuit has been filed in federal court against the U.S. government, as well as banks that were supposed to transfer the money. It's this fear that keeps many immigrants from embracing Bush's plan, as well as the idea that many immigrants come to the United States with the hope of making it their permanent home.