George Bush took another bold and controversial step, this time challenging his base on the subject of immigration reform:
Saying the United States needs an immigration system “that serves the American economy and reflects the American dream,” President Bush Wednesday outlined an plan to revamp the nation’s immigration laws and allow some eight million illegal immigrants to obtain legal status as temporary workers.
“Over the generations, we have received energetic, ambitious optimistic people from every part of the world. By tradition and conviction, our country is a welcoming society,” he said. “Every generation of immigrants has reaffirmed the wisdom of remaining open to the talents and dreams of the world. As a nation that values immigration and depends on immigration, we should have immigration laws that work and make us proud,” he said. “Yet, today, we do not.”
So far, what I’ve seen and read on Bush’s new immigration initiative is long on concept and short on details, but it at least acknowledges two truths: there are some jobs that Americans won’t perform at almost any pay rate, let alone at an economically realistic rate, and that we can’t deport 8 million people who we can’t easily locate. The problem on the right are too many people who scream for “law enforcement” directed at a huge number of people who are mostly interested in keeping their heads down and working hard for next to nothing. In a way, it’s sort of like our nation’s drug problem: we have a huge agricultural industry that relies on cheap labor. We can’t get it here, but no one wants to allow nearly enough people across the border (as permanent residents) to work the fields, so we wind up with a smuggling problem of monstrous proportions. The border patrol tries interdiction, which fails miserably across a 1,500-mile border.
From what the President said, this is not a Carteresque (or Reaganesque, for that matter) amnesty program, as the new guest-worker program won’t lead to permanent-resident status. We allow workers from other countries to temporarily migrate to the US to take the jobs Americans won’t do. It’s the bracero program redux, although instead of being seasonal, it allows for a maximum stay for six years. After that point, either the worker would have to already have a green card for immigration or return home.
You may ask, what if they don’t go home? What’s the difference between that and what we have now? For one, the workers would be documented, making them a lot easier to track down, and employers would have no more incentive to hire undocumented workers as the labor cost would be the same and the risk would be much greater. This eliminates the problems of the coyotes who are little better than slavers, taking people across the border in inhumane conditions and forcing them to live in bondage until their debts are repaid. (If you’ve lived in the Southwest, you know that more than once a year you read about dozens of people dying from asphyxiation in a truck or van that transported people like cattle across the border.) Documentation greatly increases our national security by making sure we have a paper trail for everyone who crosses into the US. Finally, the border patrol can then focus on true security issues rather than being overwhelmed by people who flood the borders to support our own agricultural industry.
I can’t say too much about the specifics yet; I’ll be very curious to see exactly how this will be implemented. I do think that Bush has the concepts mostly correct. I also applaud his boldness. It could have been very easy to let this wait until after the election, but it also would have been the wrong thing to do.