Bush gets it right on immigration
Those of you who are regular readers know that President Bush has been a profound disappointment to me, particularly because of the spending fiasco he's allowed and his attemtps to increase Federal power at the expense of states and individuals.
But Monday night, in his speech on immigration, he got it right.
As I've argued, taking a "close the borders first and do other things later" position makes for good nativist politics but is economically silly and functionally impossible. Outright amnesty or open borders is at least as wrong. Sovereignty matters.
Bush's emphasis on combining 1) border security, 2) increasing the legal ways for current illegal workers to work here (but not granting them an automatic path to citizenship), 3) penalties on employers who hire illegals, 4) stringent requirements including paying fees and taxes for anyone who was illegal and wants to become legal, combine for a sensible comprehensive program.
Indeed, I think Bush's speech tonight was the most sensible position he has given on an issue in a very long time.
While I wasn't enthusiastic following rumors of sending the National Guard to the border, his proposal for their actual assignment, i.e. intelligence gathering and analysis and other support functions rather than "militarizing the border" is acceptable.
I hope that he still has enough political capital to force the xenophobic House and the do-nothing Senate to a conference, and to move the conference very close to his plan.
A proper immigration policy must allow immigration to many or most of those to demonstrate a desire and willingess to become American, with all that means, and an ability for those who want to work here without becoming citizens to do so while still paying taxes and submitting to certain conditions on their presence.
Illegal immigration is like drugs: It is impossible to stop at its supply. The only way to deal with it is reducing demand. With illegal immigration that means employer sanctions that work...and that means a reasonable way for employers to check worker eligibility. So far, Bush's biometric ID card seems the best suggestion to accomplish that.
Not only is Bush's plan the right answer (or as close as I think we will get) for our short and medium-term immigration problems, but it is also a potentially huge win for the GOP in the long run, potentially breaking the trend toward viewing the Republican party as for the lily-white only. This factor, i.e. the potential for the GOP to garner a big percentage of hispanic votes for the long-term, is the main reason that many Democrats will want to oppose the plan, though they will never make that motivation plain. They will claim to oppose it for other reasons, but don't be fooled. Beyond the long-term issue of the hispanic vote, the Democrats will also want to keep the issue alive for upcoming elections. If nothing gets done, the Dems will have an issue to beat up the GOP and even better for them, Republicans will do the Dems work for them by attacking each other on the issue. All told, the politics are such that it is strongly in the Dems interest to prevent action...as long as they can't be painted as doing so.
The Tancredo wing of the GOP will also oppose the plan, partly for political gain and partly out of true principle. While I believe their principles (i.e. close the border first) are wrong in this case, Tancredo and friends do have a legitimate basis for skepticism: The Simpson-Mazzoli Act debate of 20 years ago included strong talk about employer sanctions which simply never happened. Since only the amnesty portion was enacted in any significant way, the plan gave a strong message to would-be illegal immigrants: Come on in, we're not serious about enforcement. This must not happen again, and Tancredo is right to wonder why we should have confidence it will not happen that way a second time.
We are a nation built on immigration. Every generation has questioned the value of the newest immigrants, and every new generation of immigrants has proven its value. It is true that these immigrants tend to be less educated on average than many prior waves of immigration. But the American dream that they can rise above their original station remains alive and well.
We should not kill it either by allowing everyone in without restriction or commitment, thus diulting America out of significance, nor by saying "this time it's different, and these people should not have access to America's greatness (even though my grandparents did)."
In my view, Bush got this one right. But to be clear, just because I believe the President laid out a good foundation for immigration reform, I fully expect politicians to screw it up particularly because Bush is too weak to force-feed his view to Congress on such an important issue.
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