Senate Democratic Leader Wants New Guest Worker Program Despite Recession and High Unemployment Rate

By Terence P. Jeffrey | June 22, 2009 | 2:56 PM EDT

( - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) says he wants to enact a new guest worker program as part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill that he is vowing to take up in Congress.

Reid announced his intention to enact a new guest worker program last week despite the fact that the economy is in a deep recession and the national unemployment rate has reached 9.4%, a level that has not been seen since 1983 and that is rare in the post-World War II era.

President Obama, meanwhile, will host a meeting at the White House on Thursday to discuss comprehensive immigration reform with selected House members and senators.  “The meeting is to continue the conversation with the hopes of beginning the debate in earnest later this year,” White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Friday.

Reid’s remarks about he guest worker program were made in anticipation of this White House meeting.

“I know that I talked to the White House, recognizing they were going to have a meeting, and gave them my ideas as to what should be the lay of the land on immigration,” Reid told reporters at a press conference last Monday.

“I said in this room last week that I've got to do health care, I've got to do energy, and then I'm looking very closely at doing immigration,” said Reid. “I think it's something that we have to do. It's important. I've outlined to you on a number of different occasions what I think should be in the legislation. I think it's extremely important for our country. We have an immigration system that's broken and needs repair.”

Reid stressed that he does not want to do immigration reform piecemeal, but intends to have the Senate act on a sweeping “comprehensive” bill that will include not only an amnesty for illegal aliens—what he called “bringing 11 million people out of the shadows”—but also a “decent guest-worker” program.

I'm going to do comprehensive immigration reform,” said Reid. “I'm not going to do it piecemeal. That's an excuse for everybody to do too little.

“We're going to do it all at once, and we're going to have comprehensive immigration reform that will include taking care of our borders, a decent guest-worker program, bringing the 11 million people out of the shadows, doing something that's so important with the employer sanctions bill that really is a catch-22 for everyone, and a number of other things,” said Reid. “We're going to do it all in one piece of legislation, not give people an excuse that they voted for one thing and think that they're through with it.”

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the national unemployment rate had risen from 8.9 percent to 9.4 percent. The last time unemployment rose that high was 26 years ago in August 1983.

Other than now and in the recession of 1982-83, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there has been no time since 1948 that unemployment rose as high as 9.4 percent.

According to BLS, the ranks of the unemployed increased by 787,000 people last month, meaning there were a total of 14.5 million unemployed people in America in May--the month before Reid announced his intention to move ahead with enacting a guest worker program.

Since the current recession started in December 2007, 7 million people have lost their jobs, almost doubling the number of unemployed people in the country.

Among Hispanics the unemployment rate has risen to 12.7 percent, according to BLS, and among blacks it is 14.9 percent.

Reid did not specify which jobs in the United States he would like to fill with foreign guest workers.

The most recent data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates that the U.S. economy was still contracting as of March.  In the first quarter of this year, the real Gross Domestic Product of the United States dropped at an annual rate of 5.7 percent.  In the fourth quarter of last year, it dropped by 6.3%.