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
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
But the most troubling -- and perhaps most telling -- part of the President's speech came in this statement: "The
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.