Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Conservatives Growl About the President's Immigration Plan

President Bush finally outlined a coherent vision for immigration reform in a speech last night that was broadcast nationwide. The President acknowledged that our current immigration system is broken. He outlined five elements of his plan to fix it:
  • “[T]he United States must secure its borders.”

  • “[W]e must create a temporary worker program.”

  • “[W]e need to hold employers to account for the workers they hire.”

  • We must provide a meaningful path to citizenship for “illegal immigrants who have roots in our country…”

  • “[W]e must honor the great American tradition of the melting pot, which has made us one Nation out of many peoples.”
The President gave a few details about each of these points, asked for civility and reason in the immigration debate, and called on Congress to pass legislation (this month) to enable his goals to be realized. The first four bullet points are understandable, but the fifth point is a bit fuzzy. What the President had to say about that point would be hard to disagree with:
“The success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans. Americans are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for the flag we fly, and an ability to speak and write the English language. English is also the key to unlocking the opportunity of America. English allows newcomers to go from picking crops to opening a grocery … from cleaning offices to running offices … from a life of low-paying jobs to a diploma, a career, and a home of their own. When immigrants assimilate and advance in our society, they realize their dreams ... they renew our spirit ... and they add to the unity of America.”
As Victor Davis Hanson said, “The president's comprehensive proposals include something for everyone.” That is, the plan seems to address concerns by people on all sides of the issue. But many conservatives are less than happy with the plan (see here, here, here and here). These people are not simply unhappy with the plan; they’re ticked off at George W. Bush. They don’t hate Bush viscerally like the angry Left, but they are sorely disappointed. Check out phrases like:
  • “President Bush has a huge disadvantage when talking about immigration reform: He is not credible.” –George Borjas

  • “The proposal has no teeth... There is nothing in it to force compliance or to penalize non-compliance.” –Bob Lonsberry

  • “Mr. Bush’s primetime televised speech Monday night amounted to more empty words.” –James R. Edwards, Jr.

  • “The president’s insistence on a “comprehensive” approach was code for "let’s water down anything by way of serious enforcement."” –James G. Gimpel

  • “[G]uest-workers will only perpetuate the problem by supplying a continual unassimilated, low-paid, and ultimately volatile underclass.” –Victor Davis Hanson
    · “Under the president’s plan, the more flagrantly you’ve broken the law, the bigger your reward.” –Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ)

  • “[T]he Bush team thinks that the American public will not be so quick to see through the bait-and-switch bromides.” –Heather Mac Donald

  • “I'm confused as to how the President can one day confidently call for ending tyranny in the world, and the next day say it is unrealistic to catch and deport those who have come to this country uninvited - some of whom are gang members and criminals.” –Tom Kilgannon

  • “President Bush has a bold new approach to immigration enforcement: He wants to police the Mexican border with symbolism.” –Rich Lowry
I suspect that if the President intended to shore up faltering conservative support, he only succeeded in further alienation. Of course, the President has a much broader constituency than strong conservatives. And not all conservatives are on the side of austere immigration policy. Indeed, many religious conservatives either have mixed emotions about immigration or favor open borders. (David Klinghoffer tries to win these people over by arguing here that the biblical precedent for naturalization of immigrants requires “serious, challenging, and difficult preconditions.”)

So, was the President merely pandering to conservatives last night? Was his speech mere political posturing? Or was it more insidious? Was he, as some on the Left argue (and some on the Right agree), simply purveying an evil plan to destroy our country (either by design or witlessness)? Or was he actually trying to do what he honestly thinks is best for the country?

I think the latter case is probably more likely. The President was putting forth a plan that he actually thinks is best for the country and is also politically viable. Of course, being a politician, he had to mix in some pandering and posturing for good measure.

Let’s look at the evidence. As governor of Texas, Bush had to deal with illegal immigration issues all of the time. He came to office intending to make immigration reform one of the legacies of his presidency. His administration started working this issue early in his presidency, but Bush’s plan was sidetracked by 9/11 and its subsequent repercussions. Now Bush is getting back to his original plan.

The President clearly doesn’t buy the standard conservative hard line on immigration. He doesn’t think it’s best for the country, but he realizes that he needs some support from conservatives, so he has thrown them a few bones. But they’re not blind to what is happening, and they’re not satisfied with dry bones, so they’re upset.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, not just with regard to immediate legislation, but also over the next couple of decades. Former Bush advisor Lawrence B. Lindsey (who is also father to three immigrants) worries here that we will miss our generational chance to get immigration right, since the issue seems to come up about once every 20 years. If you read Lindsey’s article, you might be interested to contemplate Andrew Natsios’ concern here that our embassies are becoming impenetrable fortresses that keep potential good immigrants out.

Lindsey notes that the INS is currently too understaffed and under funded to deal with our present legal immigrant load of less than 1 million people annually. The idea that we could additionally process 12 million people with our current apparatus is ludicrous. Lindsey worries that current legislation does nothing to address the service’s shortfalls. Massive expansion of the agency would be required, but that would create a whole new set of bureaucratic problems that would mean that it probably wouldn’t be ready to fully operate for half a decade or more.

I think the President is right to put the immigration issue on the table, even if it turns out differently than he hopes. The opportunity to even deal with this issue is only made possible by the fact that we have an upcoming election. Everyone clamors for the process to be free of “exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain.” –President Bush. But I think we all realize that the process is inherently political and will not escape standard political tactics.

I simply hope that the result will be something that will really work for the country. What we have today is a joke.


That One Guy said...

My vote: Witlessness.

Blogs are awash in analysis on this issue. It has certainly become this season's political football. I find it interesting that Bush's own party is basically caliing him a deserter and traitor, while many Dems are liking what he put forward. Repubs take a philosphically harder stance on Immigration.

The point remains that there is no process or organization in place to deal with the flood of up to 20 million new applicants for whatever process you want to call it - registration, legalization, enrollment - whatever.

Interestingly, the thought was put forward last night from the Senate that there should be a clause that makes it prerequisite to secure the border before any other processes are started/funding is released for those already under/over the fence. But alas, that measure failed to gain purchase, and died before it could take root. That's too bad.

Scott Hinrichs said...

I heard a couple of short interviews with Senators that are very disappointed with the Bush plan. They said, in effect, that the President is not the last word on this issue, nor is the Senate vote last night the last word on the issue.

I think we all want something decisive and we want quick action. When I consider the reality of politics and bureaucracy, however, I do not foresee anything decisive or quick.

Hugh Hewitt and Mark Steyn had a conversation about this yesterday (transcript). Steyn said that even if legislation gets passed, the only way it will get implemented for real is with extremely strong leadership and personal involvement from the President. Steyn worries that Bush simply doesn't have it in him to do that.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Sci-Fi writer Ray Bradbury has a poem about immigration that was published in today's Wall Street Journal (here). It's thought provoking.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Jonah Goldberg has an insightful analogy between illegal immigration and the war on illegal drugs. It makes you think.

That One Guy said...

Well done on the poem... you know, I think the general sentiment, when all emotion is negated, is that immigration is okay. However, the other part of that general sentiment is that the problem we have with the ILLEGAL immigration has become a symbol of ineptitude on the part of elected officials to be able to solve the problem.

You are right, most people want swift and hearty action, but mostly because they know it isn't forthcoming in any plan with real plausible life-force.

This won't be fixed by the end of the summer by any stretch. Or by next summer, or the next, for that matter.