Last week, the White House gave America a peek at its immigration reform plan, and what we saw is deeply troubling. The Bush plan will put into law a two-tier society in America, with immigrant workers perpetually stuck on the bottom rung. The Bush plan calls for creating two new massive guestworker programs: one for the 12 million undocumented people currently living in the US, and another that would supply employers in the future with hundreds of thousands of temporary workers who will come to the US to do permanent jobs. This plan is unacceptable on all fronts.

The beauty of U.S. immigration policy is that we have always welcomed those who come to our shores through legal channels as equals. The AFL-CIO has long opposed guestworker programs because they create a secondary class of workers with no enforceable rights. Guestworker programs force workers to labor in temporary status while doing permanent jobs. Their most basic rights are often violated by the very employers who have the power to send them home if they ever complain. Those programs are simply a method by which employers can lower working standards in entire industries, to the detriment of all workers. Expanding them is wrong.

In addition, under the Bush plan, the 12 million undocumented workers in this nation will continue to labor in second-class status as newly defined "temporary" workers. This plan will only perpetuate the dire situation of these workers and their families, and will lower standards for all of America's workers. Our nation should instead provide a path to citizenship for these immigrants who are already working here, paying their taxes and enriching our communities. The key to raising standards for all workers is to ensure that all workers are able to enforce their rights. As long as there are workers who are unable to exercise their basic rights to the minimum wage, to a safe workplace, or to join a union, we will continue to have a second tier of workers.

The theme of the Bush plan is inequality. It guarantees inequality now, for 12 million undocumented workers, and it guarantees inequality for those immigrants who come to our shores legally in the future. A two-tier society is not the America we want and is not the America that workers deserve.