Legislators have proposed and debated a number of amnesty and guest-worker plans (vis à vis illegal immigrants) in recent years.
Amnesty entails a general pardon -- perhaps with certain preconditions, such as the payment of a monetary fine -- for any individuals who already have violated American immigration laws and are living in the U.S. illegally.
A 2006 amnesty bill that ultimately died in the Senate as a result of massive public opposition, proposed the most dramatic changes to immigration law in American history up to that time. This bill would have legalized an estimated 9.9 million illegal aliens, and would have allowed some 4.5 million of their family members (spouses and minor children) living abroad to immediately join them -- thereby making a total of 14.4 million new American citzens virtually overnight.
Under a 2007 amnesty bill (which also failed to become law), at least 12 million illegals would have gained U.S. citizenship in a relatively short time period. Moreover, they would have qualified for preferences and privileges for which the majority of Americans are not eligible. According to Ward Connerly of the Sacramento-based American Civil Rights Institute, Hispanic illegals would have been deemed an officially sanctioned "underrepresented minority" and, as such, would have gone "to the front of the line" in the path toward citizenship, "mov[ing] in front of white males and in some cases white women."
A Heritage Foundation study concluded that the 2007 amnesty bill would have imposed a likely net cost of $2.6 trillion on American taxpayers -- giving amnesty recipients access to more than 60 federal means-tested welfare programs (including Medicaid), in addition to non-welfare programs like Social Security and Medicare.
The pro-amnesty lobby is embodied in the work of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), whose "solution" to the problem of illegal immigration is to simply legalize everyone -- a move that would, according to an AILA issue paper, "stabilize the workforce of U.S. employers, encourage people to come out of the shadows to be scrutinized by our government, and allow immigrants to work and travel legally and be treated equally." The AILA paper never uses the term "illegal," nor even "undocumented." Rather, it describes illegal aliens as "people in the U.S. without authorization" who are entitled to "family unity, full labor rights, labor mobility, and a path to permanent residence and citizenship over time."
Guest-worker programs, meanwhile, seek to allow illegal immigrants to continue working in the United States for specified time periods -- as long as six years, in some cases -- before they are required to return permanently to their home countries. One quite successful guest-worker arrangement was the bracero program which, though beset by some abuses, brought almost 5 million Mexican-born, temporary farm laborers to the United States between 1942 and 1964, at which time the program was ended.
In more recent times, guest-worker proposals have amounted to thinly veiled efforts to expand the pool of illegal aliens who can eventually be converted into American citizens and, by logical extension, voters in political elections. For example, the aforementioned 2006 amnesty bill included a "temporary guest worker" plan containing a provision to give H-2C visas to the workers in question, and to subsequently make them permanent residents with the right to become citizens after five years. The plan was slated to begin by importing, in the first year, some 200,000 H-2C workers who could immediately bring into the U.S. (on H-4 visas) unlimited numbers of family members also eligible for permanent legal residence and citizenship. Under the plan, the new guest workers would have earned the prevailing wage; would have been immune from the possibility of being fired from their jobs except for "just cause"; would have been protected from arrest for civil immigration offenses if stopped for traffic violations; and would have been able to attend college at the reduced tuition rates normally available only to in-state, legal residents.