Confirming many of us in our belief that President Bush is at heart a rational moderate, tonight he outlined a plan for immigration which addresses the nation's border security concerns, our need for immigrant labor, and our tradition of welcoming those who want to live and work and become American citizens. What he expressed in his speech tonight was essentially the plan which Senator McCain and others had put together a few weeks ago in the Congress, but which was narrowly voted down. Perhaps now, with this unambiguous presidential endorsement the plan will pass as it should have the first time.
In his speech the President made four clear points:
1. Secure the borders. As he put it, “The border should be open to trade and lawful immigration, and shut to illegal immigrants, as well as criminals, drug dealers, and terrorists.”
The plan - by the end of 2008, increase the Border Patrol by 50% to a total of 18,000 men. In the interim temporarily fill those jobs with 6000 National Guardsmen from border states. For additional border security, deploy new technology like motion sensors, urban fences, infrared cameras and aerial surveillance.
2. A Temporary Worker Program. Make it possible for Mexicans to come here to work at will with legal, non-resident status. As he said, “A temporary worker program would meet the needs of our economy, and it would give honest immigrants a way to provide for their families while respecting the law.” Workers would have to go through criminal background checks and would eventually have to return to their home country. This would meet our economic needs and the workers would be trackable to prevent any security problems.
3. Internal Enforcement. Make sure that illegals who are caught are sent home promptly and that we have enough facilities to hold them until they are. End the 'catch and release' approach to immigration enforcement. Improve the ID system so that employers can tell whether papers employees offer them are legitimate or forgeries.
4. Open Up a Path to Citizenship. For those already in the country we need to provide a way for those who would be desirable additions to the population to apply for citizenship. This program would offer opportunities without offering amnesty. As he said”
“It is neither wise, nor realistic to round up millions of people, many with deep roots in the United States, and send them across the border. There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant, and a program of mass deportation. That middle ground recognizes 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.”
In other words, keep the good, hard-working and honest illegals and send the bad ones back. Charge them a “meaningful penalty for breaking the law” - something like the $2000 fine proposed in the McCain bill. Make them learn English and make sure they have long-term employment. Then let them apply for citizenship with slightly less priority than those applying through the regular process. In this section he stressed clearly the idea that appropriate punishment will satisfy the law and should open the path to rehabilitation, a fundamental principle of our legal system.
There was a fifth point, but it was basically a generalized restatement of the fourth point, followed by some patriotic babble about the contributions of immigrants to the country. A valid issue for consideration, but not really part of the plan for immigration.
As to the plan itself, it's almost exactly what they voted on in the Senate and couldn't quite pass. It is very much what Bush calls the “Rational Middle” approach to immigration (btw, guess who owns the domain name rationalmiddle.com?). It includes both enforcement to address the nation's safety and the issues of illegality, but also the opportunity for Mexican workers to come here on either a permanent or temporary basis to better themselves and provide the labor we need.
President Bush didn't come right out and say it, but what he's offering is a sensible position between two unacceptable, even crazy extremes. On the one hand there is the paranoia and xenophobia of the reactionaries who want to cleanse the country of the 'brown menace' as expressed by the Minutemen and the Santorum plan currently up for consideration for a second time in the House of Representatives - a militarized border, detention camps and mass forced deportation. Opposed to this is the pipe dream Reconquista of the Mexifornia faction and radical groups like Mecha who want to take over the US Southwest through uncontrolled immigration and ultimately even force and make it a hispanic nation.
What the President and Senator McCain and other moderates offer is a balanced solution which addresses demands from both sides and would solve the immigration problem without creating chaos in the nation or irreparable harm to the economy. It addresses the argument of one group over the 'rule of law' issue by punishing illegals and making sure they receive no special favoritism and addresses the demands of their opponents by recognizing the legitimate need for immigration under proper procedures.
This plan has been offered in substantially the same form in the Senate. It has now been endorsed and expressed clearly by the President. It fully addresses both border security and the need for immigration. It is a plan which is comprehensive, fair and practical. What rational and responsible national legislator could oppose it when it comes up for a vote again in a week or two?
Nonetheless, some will oppose it, and I encourage you to vote their bigoted, politically opportunistic and irrational asses out of office in the next election.