President Bush's Immigration Address

The President's speech on Monday has received derision from people on every side of the still-escalating national debate on immigration -- and deservedly so. Perhaps Pres. Bush displayed what some might term an attempt at compromise. But it might just be political pandering, attempting to toss bones of appeasement to folks on both sides of the aisle to pump up his approval ratings. However, the speech did contain some ideas of merit. I was particularly pleased to see his clarification of the term "amnesty", which anti-immigration advocates (including mainstream commentators like Lou Dobbs) staple to any sort of plan to improve the legal venues to immigrate to the USA.

But Bush made sense: "[W]e must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants are already here. They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship. This is amnesty, and I oppose it....Some in this country argue that the solution is to deport every illegal immigrant -- and that any proposal short of this amounts to amnesty. I disagree....There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant, and a program of mass deportation."

And then he lost his sense again: "That middle ground recognizes that there are differences between an illegal immigrant who crossed the border recently and someone who has worked here for many years, and has a home, a family, and an otherwise clean record."

Of course differences exist between those who are more settled here and recent arrivals, and we must recognize that immigrants, undocumented though they may be, have lived here for long enough and joined our society to enough of an extent that they are, for all intents and purposes, permanent residents of this country. However, a new law based in that principle which requires newcomers to leave -- such as the Hagel-Martinez "compromise" bill in the Senate -- does not provide a plan for the future. Even if we believe the very dubious claim that further militarization of the border and crackdowns on employers who hire undocumented workers will eventually cut off all undocumented immigration (which they won't) enforcement agencies would be playing catch-up continually.

We must have an ongoing policy for a path to legalization. The problem is not just the undocumented population already here. Just as big of a problem is the arrival of those who will attempt to enter next month, next year, five years from now. And they will come. Even those who have been deported will come back. They need to. It's a matter of survival. We need to accommodate for that. We need a yearly visa quota that fluctuates with the demand of the market, meaning that it would be based in reality and not in arbitrary numbers set to serve political ends.

The President's proposal won't do it, though his justifications for the worker program (family unification, boons for the U.S. economy, the USA's history as an immigrant nation, etc.) are right. The "temporary" in Bush's "temporary worker program" refers to the program not the workers. The plan in Hagel-Martinez provides only a short window during which immigrants can apply for legalization -- and Bush calls for the application window to exist only "for a limited period of time". And, considering the efficiency of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS), hardly anyone will make it through, and we'll be back to square one, with a large undocumented population.

But the most troubling -- and perhaps most telling -- part of the President's speech came in this statement: "The United States is not going to militarize the southern border." Why is this statement so important? Because he had just finished outlining his plan for militarizing the southern border: "By the end of 2008, we will increase the number of Border Patrol officers by an additional 6,000....We will construct high-tech fences in urban corridors, and build new patrol roads and barriers in rural areas. We will employ motion sensors, infrared cameras, and unmanned aerial vehicles to prevent illegal crossings.... [And] up to 6,000 Guard members will be deployed to our southern border."

I don't believe in wide-open borders. We should of course maintain a vigilant force against drug smugglers and terrorists -- you know, actual criminals. But we shouldn't need much more than we have now to regulate immigration. The problem is not that we don't have enough guns and walls at the border. The problem is that our legal venues for immigration are inadequate, irrational, and dysfunctional. If they weren't the number of people entering the country without proper documentation would be much smaller than it is now. People don't cross three days on foot in the desert with their small children -- or sealed in a truck -- because it's fun or because they're bad apples who like to break the rules. The do so because we give them no other choice.

Further militarization both on and within our borders will serve only to terrify the undocumented and keep them from stepping forward to attempt to normalize their statuses. They know far better than we how biased and inefficient USCIS is. If Bush's plan -- or either of the two before the Houses of Congress -- becomes law, the combination of oppressive enforcement, punitive criminalization, no real, viable path to legalization for those already here, and no system reform to account for those yet to arrive will only increase our undocumented population and decrease the rights of all of us who live within these borders.


Blogger Philucifer [aka Charlie Willis] said...

Good to see you around here.

This whole situation seems ludicris, cynical, and misguided. Why does it keep coming up every few years? Because no one ever ACTUALLY tries to fix the situation. Because without these laborers, the people in charge couldn't run their businesses, or enjoy the luxuries they do. Which just shows that it isn't an issue as much as it is a political tactic to divert attention from other arenas and pander to certain constituents.

I certainly understand the need to patrol our borders and to keep tabs on who's coming in and going out -- for security's sake, if for nothing else. And I certainly understand needing a comprehensive plan re: citizenship and immigrant workers.

I can't help but think that one of the reasons nobody can find a proper solution is that it isn't just an immigration plan. It's rooted in our war on (some)drugs, on how we relate to other governments, and how we deal with our own corporations shipping laborers across the border to get out of paying their workers a decent wage. Most drug smugglers and terrorists we created, through our policies if not directly through the influence of the CIA.

There are a lot of fingers in this pie, and the cleanest ones belong to the "illegals". At least they've got a compelling reason behind their actions.

And of course, why aren't we building a fence across our northern border at the same time? If for nothing else than to keep our citizens from fleeing to Canada for inexpensive healthcare. It smacks of hypocrisy and racism to me.

-- Professor Steve

4:59 PM, May 19, 2006  

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