New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



University of Chicago Legal Forum, 2007


In this Article, I argue that we should avoid adopting a large-scale guest worker program as a response to unauthorized migration, because such programs threaten the processes of immigrant integration. Many migrants who are here illegally today and their counterparts in the future have or will form the intent to remain for long periods of time in the United States. We therefore must adopt admissions policies that facilitate their integration into American social and civic life. Temporary worker programs should be avoided (or carefully designed), because they constrain the key mechanisms of integration - immigrant mobility and social reciprocity.

Guest worker programs constrain mobility, because their requirements limit freedom to move in the economy and therefore in society. Such programs also undermine reciprocity, because they promise Americans too much and ask of them too little. Guest worker programs tend to last longer and grow larger than intended and create new forms of illegal immigration - results likely to prompt popular backlash. By treating immigrants as temporary fixes for current labor needs, or as means, guest worker programs discourage Americans from adapting to demographic changes - an essential component of assimilation. This failure to treat immigrants as potential members also undermines the social cooperation that should characterize a democratic society.

We should respond to unauthorized migration by substantially increasing the number of permanent visas available to unskilled workers. Of course, political support and administrative capacity might not exist for this reform, and the status quo is untenable. I therefore give brief consideration to how a temporary worker policy could be designed so as not to lose sight of integrationist objectives. Any guest worker program must include an easy-to-negotiate process of adjustment to permanent status and a presumption in favor of adjustment. Most important, a guest worker program should not be adopted without a simultaneous expansion of the number of permanent resident visas and an effort to clear existing backlogs.

Date of Authorship for this Version

July 2008