The Screaming Pen

Providing Global Insight, Context, and Perspective

Pull Up a Chair

Immigration at Home (2): Mr. Bush is Right in Theory

With an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already living and working in the United States, calls for their arrest and deportation look extreme, impractical, and counterproductive. Finding them would be difficult enough, jails would overflow, and they are in America primarily because there’s a surfeit of jobs to go round. Crucially, appealing to the business wing of the GOP allows President Bush the political cover needed to defy his party’s archconservatives.

Indeed, in his address tonight Bush largely got it right, at least in theory. Complementing any naturalization proposals, the border needs to be tightened so that the problem doesn’t come full circle only to be dealt with again in a decade’s time. For those with shorter memories, this would not be the first time that a “path to citizenship” or “amnesty” is enacted: both the Reagan and Clinton presidencies pushed similar measures. Because of this history, Bush’s reluctance to use the term “amnesty” makes sense. Previous attempted fixes allowed naturalization while draining resources from the border control, thus allowing the current argument to metastasize. Legalization should only be done in conjunction with efficacious control of the border [ see Immigration: The Border (1)].

Yet giving illegals legitimacy is a crucial step. As already mentioned, the role they play in industry, agriculture, and construction is vital (although experts debate to what extent). Doing so would enable them to lobby for better working conditions (hours, benefits, safety) and pay more taxes, thus reducing the burden on public health care. Some evidence also suggests that – because they would be better placed to seek wage rises –the competitiveness and wages of other workers would be driven up as well. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of immigrants are hardworking, friendly, family-centered, and otherwise law-abiding.

No, not that kind of alien

Demands must be made of illegals too. Segregation, voluntary or otherwise, is unacceptable and can be overcome through time and learning. While first generation immigrants are often too busied by labor to fully integrate, the second generation – when entered in English -speaking schools (and the nation’s education system needs fixing here too) – become as American as anyone. Anglos shouldn’t feel threatened hearing Spanish in the subway or on television; with a little effort and patience, language barriers and the resulting distance can be minimized. Immigrant protesters, however, are wrong to wave Mexican flags while clamoring for citizenship. The image inherently conflicts with the pursuit, and Spanish national anthems are equally pig-headed.

But the Devil’s in the Details

Resolved: immigrants must learn English. Peer deeper into the issue though and unanswered questions begin to arise. First, how will English proficiency be measured? Must they become fluent or just functional? What is functional? Are those who fail sent home or given another try? What test will be used to determine ability? Designing any such test invites reliability problems, and test-takers eventually seek to pass the exam in place of actual learning. Bush also made a distinction between those illegals who have “roots in our country” and those that have arrived recently. This appears to make sense, but what is the cut-off between the two? Additionally, locating the unpopular newcomers will prove arduous.

And he might be in Congress too

The president’s address tonight stated that, “The House has passed an immigration bill. The Senate should act by the end of this month so we can work out the differences between the two bills and Congress can pass a comprehensive bill for me to sign into law.” This seems to say that the House bill will stand (instead of requiring a new one to be passed, as most had expected), and differences with a Senate bill will be adjudicated in conference (after different versions of a bill are passed separately in the House and Senate, legislators from both chambers meet in conference to resolve discrepancies before sending it to the President). The House bill was of the extreme sort and much will depend on which Congressmen are chosen by the (GOP) leadership to work on the compromise. The questions mentioned above have thus been left to legislators to resolve; a task in which they have so far failed to impress.

With most of his second term agenda (Social Security reform & health care) in tatters and approval ratings barely above 30%, immigration actually looks to be one area where Mr. Bush can affect an important issue. He – and more importantly, the public – will have to nudge Congress to come to a reasonable solution. And a mistakenly overlooked component, one that is arguably as important as illegal immigration: expediting and increasing visas for top-notch students and skilled foreign workers who are increasingly pursuing opportunities elsewhere.


 2006. All rights reserved.


May 16, 2006 Posted by | Author: DML, Democrats, Immigration, Latin America, Mexico, North America, Politics, The GOP, United States | 1 Comment