This morning former Florida governor Jeb Bush, along with Thomas F. McLarty III and Edward Alden, presented a rational and pragmatic defense of immigration reform in the Los Angeles Times. While the bluster of the O’Reilly-Hannity-Palin segment of the GOP continues to set the party line on immigration, Governor Bush cuts through the emotion and gets to the issue:
Congress and the Obama administration should move ahead on three fronts: reform the legal immigration system so that it responds more adroitly to labor market needs and enhances U.S. competitiveness; restore the integrity of immigration laws through more effective enforcement, especially at the workplace; and offer a fair and orderly way to allow many of those currently living here illegally to earn the right to remain legally.
Although Bush and company refrain from advancing any specific means of improving our system, they enumerate the manifest ways in which immigration reform will benefit our country. Implicit throughout is the notion that immigration reform could, in fact, become a winning national Republican issue. Citing the economy and national security as the primary basis for reform, he consistently notes the highly bipartisan nature of this policy’s fundamental objectives.
Bush also makes the case that our foreign policy has, and will continue to, benefit from our high immigrant population:
Immigration has long been America’s secret weapon. The United States has attracted an inordinate share of talented and hardworking immigrants, who are enticed here by the world’s best universities, the most innovative companies, a vibrant labor market and a welcoming culture. Many leaders in allied nations were educated in the United States, a diplomatic asset that no other country can match. And the contributions of immigrants — 40% of the science and engineering PhDs in the U.S. are foreign-born, for example — have helped maintain the scientific and technological leadership that is the foundation of our national security.
This is precisely what the “American First” Pat Buchanan crowd doesn’t understand: allowing a variety of cultures, languages and global perspectives to exist under the American flag is a distinct strength. It is precisely the powerful diversity of institutions such as the Fletcher School and the Georgetown School of Foreign Service that has elevated them as the premier places to study international relations. As Bush notes, immigrants, notably from Asia, have inordinately contributed to the study of mathematics and science in this country. Creating a more straightforward approach to undocumented students and workers will only enhance this distinctive national advantage.
What’s more, the combination of strengthening border authorities and diminishing the sea of undocumenteds will only help the INS—now part of Homeland Security—sift through the population and locate dangerous individuals. At present there is little means of distinguishing between the Honduran carpenter who has lived the past 5 years in the US peacefully and the Columbian radical who just crossed the border last week with 30 pounds of Semtex. By naturalizing those who’ve earned their place in America, coupled with stronger border security, the national security equation is simplified—the distinction between migrant worker and terrorist will become more apparent.
Although Obama is clearly preoccupied with numerous different priorities, I see immigration reform as one of the most pressing issues we face. As the United States experiences a significant lull in immigration (illegal and legal), now would be the time to enact new laws before the next flood of migrants appears at the Rio Grande. Moreover, when the Congressional debate on health care reform inevitably emerges, I can easily imagine Michelle Bachmann spouting uninterrupted fury over the concept of illegals receiving tax payer subsidized hospital visits. Creating a path to citizenship could pre-empt such arguments against expansive health care. And, finally, enacting such legislation would undoubtedly bring major political dividends to Obama and his Party—you don’t have to be Nate Silver to project how freshly naturalized Americans (and their children) would likely use their first votes as citizens if Obama can produce these reforms.
At present, we’re experiencing a climate in which millions of people—12 million according to the article—are using our roads, filling our emergency rooms and attending our public schools, all without directly contributing to the tax base. Now, what’s a better solution: do we enact a divisive, and logistically impossible, system of deportation that will open a flood gate of disaffected anger against the Hispanic community? Or, do we accept the economic and political reality of our nation’s undocumented population—bringing them under the law and adding their tax dollars?
All in all, this article emphasizes the degree to which the GOP has increasingly strayed from realistic and workable policies into the realm of angry reactionism. Being “anti-illegal immigration” isn’t a policy—it’s an emotion, a visceral reaction. Bill O’Reilly has no interest in debating the relative economic and political benefits of immigration reform—he just hates hearing people speak Spanish in the street. When that’s the fundamental motivating factor, realistic policy making evaporates. Until the Republicans control this unthinking political niche and listen to reason, as Jeb seems to be proposing, they will continue to operate as party founded on unconscious anger and cultural hatred rather than concerns for national and economic security.