The Krieble plan

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I had an opportunity to talk this week with Helen Krieble, head of the Krieble Foundation and proprietor of an equestrian ranch in Colorado. Krieble's foundation has been a major benefactor of the Heritage Foundation, and I had seen her honored at Heritage events where she has had little to say.

She has a lot to say now, and quite articulately, about theimmigration proposal developed by her foundation, and, in a somewhat different form, introduced into the House by Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Pence. The Krieble proposal is for a guest-worker plan, in which would-be immigrants abroad could apply, through private-sector employment agencies, for available jobs in the United States. They could work legally in the United States for stated periods of time but would not be on the road to citizenship; they could apply for a green card at any time under current procedures.

Why private-sector employment agencies? Krieble has had experience going through the cumbersome process of hiring legal immigrants and finds it exasperating. Here's how the proposal introduces the alternative:

"A solution must be found that gives each side what it needs. One side insists on absolute control of the borders as a prerequisite to the debate, and another needs a system to guarantee availability of the workforce at a reasonable cost. It is possible to do both. They are not mutually exclusive, but no proposal has yet emerged that meets the needs of each side.

"Most aspects of a solution that works for everyone seem simple enough—border control and a legal guest-worker program. But the last piece remains unanswered—how can we ensure that workers already in the United States will go through the process to get documented? They cannot be expected to 'report to deport,' and they won't go back home first unless they are certain they can return. That dilemma points to an important part of the problem that is rarely discussed in policy circles but very real to the workers. The bureaucratic pace and enormous backlogs that plague government agencies have grown steadily worse over the years. For many workers wanting jobs in the United States, the wait is simply too long, the process too cumbersome, and the cost too high. So the inability of government to respond quickly to such needs simply adds another (fairly powerful) incentive for people to come illegally, rather than wait for the legal process. Government employees, of course, get paid the same whether they issue visas in a timely manner or not, so they will never have the incentive to make the program work that private companies would have. The private-sector component in this plan is the key to a final solution."

I have been urging those who argue for a tamperproof identification card for legal immigrants or for high-tech border security measures to make sure to avoid government procurement rules. There has been huge growth in the temporary-worker business, and private firms like Kelly Services have been able to place workers in jobs with vastly more efficiency than government job-finding programs. Similarly, Visa and MasterCard seem able to process huge numbers of transactions with a high degree of security and a very low error rate. The private sector has been racing ahead of the public sector in these areas. So why not subcontract out this work?

In recent days, the story has been that the House Republicans will not accept any immigration bill with guest-worker or legalization provisions. The House Republicans' proposal to hold district hearings all across the country on immigration during the August recess has been taken as an invitation to those who favor tougher border security and oppose "amnesty" to demonstrate their opposition to any bill that does anything else. But it could also be an opportunity for those who believe that our economy will continue to need a large number of foreign workers if it is to continue to perform at its current exemplary level. Those who want to increase border security and crack down on employers of illegal immigrants could be asked how the economy is going to function without the perhaps 7 million workers of illegal status that we have today. So long as those jobs exist, there will be a powerful incentive to evade border security and to hire illegals. The Krieble/Pence proposal is an approach that could provide the legal workers that are needed to make our economy function optimally within the confines of the law. I think it deserves serious consideration in conference committee and by the House Republicans.