Bill Wright, a dairy farmer turned state representative from Utah who is the architect of Utah's half-baked plan to create a guest worker program for illegal immigrants, is my nominee for this year's least-informed immigration policymaker. True, the year is young, and there are scores of legislators who know very little about immigration dabbling in the issue, but I doubt any will be able to top Wright's performance on NPR Monday night for shear, willful ignorance.
Robert Siegel, the host of NPR's "All Things Considered", asked Wright to describe the bill that he sponsored, and here is Wright's response:
What this is is a concept. The concept is that if you're here, and you have evidence that you've been here, while there is some fines and some penalties for being here, if you're actually working, if you go through a stringent background check, if you prove that you're responsible for your debts and obligations, particularly medical debts and other things, then we will allow you to continue to be here.
Rather than follow up with a question on how the state of Utah would verify whether illegal immigrants were "responsible for their debts and obligations", (whatever those might be), Siegel went right for the jugular, asking Wright if it was fair to say that his plan amounted to an amnesty. Wright's response would be hilarious if it weren't so frighteningly uninformed:
No, unfair. Is amnesty giving a visa? I think you would agree it is not. This guest worker permit is only for those that comply with the higher standards in participation. It's no longer – maybe it's an extended visa. I mean, we give visas. We allow people to come in visiting. Is allow people from other countries to come and visit America, be able to fill part of that? Is that amnesty? I think we'd agree that's not amnesty. A visa's not amnesty. So why is a guest worker permit amnesty?
Here Wright presented Siegel with the kind of juicy fastball that even I could have hit out of Wrigley Field. How can you equate law-abiding foreign nationals who apply for U.S. tourist visas while in their own country with illegal immigrants who arrive without permission? Earth to Utah dairy farmer: you don't need an amnesty if you haven't broken the law, and those who apply for visas, in their home countries, haven't broken the law. But Siegel didn't bother to point out the absurdity of the comparison, and one can only wonder if he too, failed to understand the distinction.
Wright then went on to emphasize that illegal immigrants who were "good employees" should have a right to continue living in Utah. In case you were wondering how one of the most conservative states in the country could come up with such an ill-conceived plan, here is your key phrase. Wright's sentiment reflects that of the business-first wing of the Republican Party that is eager to supply an army of docile, compliant workers from developing countries to entrepreneurs who have an insatiable thirst for "cheap" labor. (Cheap for them, that is.)
Clearly Wright has gotten himself in over his head in tackling the immigration reform issue. If you look at his legislative track record, it appears as though he typically spends most of his time on agricultural issues, including a signature piece of legislation on the issue of mosquito abatement. Stick to the bugs, Bill.