December 4, 2005
Messages on Immigration
-- President Bush was talking tough recently during a visit to
the U.S.-Mexico border.
it was someone who looked a lot like President Bush. I have my
doubts. It sounded more like Pat Buchanan.
the same George Bush who, while he was governor of Texas, defended
bilingual education and still delights in addressing Latino audiences
in Spanish. And here he was talking about how immigrants had ``an
obligation to learn ... the English language.''
the same president who has repeatedly praised the contributions
of immigrants who ``do jobs that Americans won't do'' and noted
that ``family values don't stop at the Rio Grande.'' The same
president who, in a speech at Ellis Island two months before the
Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, spoke these words: ``Immigration is not
a problem to be solved. It is a sign of a confident and successful
nation. And people who seek to make America their home should
be met in that spirit by representatives of our government. New
arrivals should be greeted not with suspicion and resentment,
but with openness and courtesy.''
having decided that there is a problem, Bush traveled
to the border to ``make it clear that when people violate immigration
laws, they're going to be sent home, and they need to stay at
home.'' He then proceeded to spell out various ways in which the
administration was going to make it easier for illegal immigrants
to be apprehended, detained and deported.
makeover is obviously part of an attempt to pander to the cultural
right and the closed-border crowd. It's a futile attempt because,
as long as the president holds on to the idea of turning more
than 10 million illegal immigrants into ``temporary workers''
(Bush-speak for ``amnesty''), the anti-illegal-immigration crusaders
will never go along with anything the president proposes.
these competing messages on immigration don't sound all that compatible.
But there is one way to reconcile them. It could be said that
while Bush thinks immigrants are beneficial to society and should
be welcomed, he's only talking about legal immigrants.
When it comes to illegal immigrants, Bush could take the harder
line, saying, as he did at the border, that they should be apprehended
and sent home.
But, if this were the case, then that would suggest Bush is a
real law-and-order guy with zero tolerance for lawbreakers. Trouble
is, we already know this isn't true. Bush failed to dedicate at
least a few words of his speech in Tucson to the one enforcement
mechanism that stands a chance of curbing illegal immigration
-- stiffening penalties against employers who unlawfully
hire undocumented immigrants.
In a speech
that touched on an assortment of enforcement measures, Bush seemed
to go out of his way to avoid any mention of stiffening employer
sanctions. The closest the president came were a few vague references
to the need for ``better work site enforcement,'' but he immediately
followed that with a promise to help businesses ``abide by the
kidding? Help businesses abide by the law? That assumes all businesses
are acting in good faith. What about those employers who have
no interest in following the law because they've become accustomed
to the profits to be made by hiring illegal immigrant workers
at bargain basement wages?
someone such as Bush, who has always seemed to have such a realistic
grasp on why illegal immigrants do what they do, be so cavalier
about why some employers do what they do?
it's because Bush, in his heart, doesn't really believe in punishing
those who hire illegal immigrants. The president has had a tough
year, and his relationship with social conservatives could stand
some improvement. So he went to the border. But I think that if
the MBA president had his way, this would be defined as a mutually
beneficial business transaction between a willing employer and
a willing worker, and government would keep its nose out of it.
In any case,
without cracking down on employers, Bush's immigration reform
effort isn't worth much, and certainly not all the chest-thumping
the president did in promoting it.
I have nothing
against politicians posing for photo-ops at the border. But we've
had plenty of that already. What we could use is honesty and courage,
and politicians who approach this issue with ample reserves of
2005, The San Diego Union-Tribune