Maria E. Aparicio 2013-02-01 02:43:14
From Guest Worker to U.S. Citizen With talks of comprehensive immigration reform looming on the congressional horizon one of the ideas being debated is that of the guest worker program. The basic concept is that unskilled workers—or workers in the agricultural, hospitality and construction industries—would be able to enter the United States temporarily to work in such industries, but would ultimately return to their countries of origin. Such programs do not provide a roadmap to U.S. citizenship. This article does not argue the policy merits of guest worker programs, but rather aims to provide a brief history of some of these programs. In addition, this article describes the rare, but important confluence of guest worker programs and U.S. citizenship. Julio was born on November 22, 1914 in San Salvador, El Salvador. In 1940 he was recruited by the United States government to serve as a part of a contingent of Salvadorans who were to travel to Panama, and expand the canal. Julio described the conditions as “poor” and explained that many people died during the construction of the canal. He was spared the most treacherous conditions by being assigned to work in the machine shop. Julio gained valuable work experience, and basic knowledge of the English language. Shortly thereafter, Julio’s younger sister, Edy, was recruited by the U.S. government as part of a contingent of Salvadorans that would travel to the San Francisco Bay area to work in the ship yards. Edy worked directly on the construction of war ships. She enjoyed her experience, but admits with a twinkle in her eye that she would have liked to have married a nice American during her stay. Unfortunately, she explains, most of the young men were off in the Pacific or Europe fighting the war. Upon Julio’s return to El Salvador he became aware of a valuable work-study program being offered in Tennessee. Salvadorans were encouraged to apply for scholarships to travel to the United States, learn auto mechanics, and work in the auto industry. Julio excitedly filled out his application, indicating his previous work experience in the machine shop and his elementary knowledge of the English language. He was accepted. Under immigration law Julio was considered a non-immigrant, or a person who did not have the intention of staying indefinitely. Julio stayed in the United States for several months and learned the basics of auto-mechanics. Julio returned to El Salvador and gained employment teaching the cutting edge mechanics skills he had just acquired in the U.S. The mechanics manuals Julio used were all in the English language. It was his job to transmit that information to students in the Spanish language. He felt frustrated with the relatively low pay he was earning, in comparison to the pay he had earned in the American auto-industry. Julio explained to his employer that he wanted one more chance to travel to the U.S. and become fluent in the English language. With such fluency, he explained, he could more effectively teach mechanics. In 1950 Julio’s employer agreed to help Julio acquire a visa to enter the U.S. Julio asked his employer for only a temporary visa, but when the visa arrived it was an immigrant visa. Julio returned to the United States, and continued studying mechanics. In 1952 Julio was awarded a Doctor of Motors for his achievements in the auto-industry. In 1955 Julio applied for U.S. citizenship. The requirements at the time were: five years of lawful permanent residency, fluency in the English language, knowledge of U.S. history and civics, and good moral character. Julio had entered the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident in 1950, so he had completed his five years of residency. Julio had begun studying English in 1940, so by 1955 he was ready to take a basic test in English. Good moral character is difficult to define, but in general persons convicted of particular crimes do not possess the requisite good moral character. Thus, in 1955 Julio became a U.S. citizen. The current naturalization requirements for persons wishing to become U.S. citizens are substantially similar today to what they were in 1955. Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) § 312, 316. A person must demonstrate the ability to read and write the English language, and knowledge of U.S. history and civics. INA § 312. There are limited exceptions to this requirement based upon advanced age, or mental disability. Id. In addition, the person must have five years of lawful permanent residence, five years of physical presence in the U.S. immediately preceding the date of application, and good moral character for the past five years. INA § 316. By far the most well-known guest worker program of all is the Bracero program. The Bracero program was created in 1942 to address labor shortages in the agricultural and railroad industries. Accordingly, Mexican citizens worked temporarily in the agricultural industry from 1942 to 1964. And Mexican citizens worked temporarily in the railroad industry from the program’s inception until the end of World War II in 1945. In the midst of the program, specifically in 1954, hundreds of thousands of Mexican citizens were deported under the direction of the Eisenhower administration in what is known as “Operation Wetback.” At the time, the Eisenhower administration broke the record for the most deportations in any given fiscal year. As an immigration attorney I occasionally meet Mexican born grandchildren of Braceros. Such persons may have a claim to derivative U.S. citizenship if either parent of such a person was born in the United States, and resided in the United States for a requisite period of time. The requisite period of time for which the U.S. citizen born parent must have lived in the U.S. depends upon the year of birth of the Mexican born child. INA §§ 301, 309. As such, as part of my initial intakes I always inquire about the immigration history of a person’s parents and grandparents. In the 1980s the U.S. once again had a substantial number of temporary agricultural workers. Congress allows for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residency for agricultural workers who performed “seasonal agricultural services” in the U.S. for at least 90 “man days” between May 1, 1985 and May 1, 1986, provided that an application for temporary residence was submitted by such persons during the 18-month period beginning on June 1, 1987. INA § 210. This process is referred to as Legalization for Special Agricultural Workers (“SAWs”). Currently, Congress allows for a limited amount of laborers to enter the United States to conduct temporary agricultural work. INA § 101(a) (15)(H)(ii)(a). The Department of Homeland Security allows employers to bring such workers into the United States upon a finding that there are insufficient U.S. workers who are willing, able, qualified, and available to fill such positions; and that the employment of such aliens will not negatively impact the wages of and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. INA § 214, 218. The visa provided to such non-immigrants is the H2A visa. There is no pathway to citizenship for such visa holders, as one of the naturalization requirements is five years of lawful permanent residence. INA § 316. Today Julio is 98 years of age. He has been a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers for over fifty years. He has assisted his children to immigrate lawfully to the U.S. At his advanced age his mind is still sharp. In his study are many books about mechanics, electronics, and engineering. In one corner of the room is a floor lamp that he personally constructed from scratch. And in another corner of the room stands a large American flag. Julio exemplifies what a once-guest worker can contribute to this country, and what the United States can provide for an aspiring American. Maria E. Aparicio was born in San Francisco California. She earned bachelor and master degrees in Native American studies from the University of California, Davis. She focused her studies at the University of California upon the indigenous cultures of Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Accordingly, she gained familiarity with the Nahuat languages of Mexico and El Salvador. She also studied the K’iche’ language in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
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