Friday, June 15, 2007

The Conservative Case for Immigration Reform

I'm pretty intrigued by all the divisions among conservatives over the comprehensive immigration reform plan pending in the Senate (which as of today has been been given a new breath of life). As regular readers here know, next to the Iraq war, immigration is probably my most common topic of discussion. Indeed, I certainly don't need to defend by conservative bona fides on the issue: My posts speak for themselves.

Nevertheless, as even some of my regular visitors are voicing concerns on the bill, I thought I'd post President Bush's recent statements on the issue, and perhaps I might elicit some productive commentary.
In his interview with the Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel two weeks ago, President Bush made the conservative case for immigration reform.

According to Strassel, Bush is exasperated with the resistance to immigration reform:
Mr. Bush has been pilloried by his own followers in recent weeks, charged with everything from granting amnesty to 12 million illegal immigrants, to failing to secure the borders. He stands accused of throwing over his most loyal supporters to join with Ted Kennedy and liberals to ruin America. Can it really be that this president--who has previously identified so well with the Everyman in his party--is completely off the reservation on this issue?

The answer is no, although Mr. Bush is aware he'll have to work hard to prove it.... "I think that some of the signals that people have seen are very disturbing to very patriotic Americans, such as people flying Mexican flags during immigration rallies," or "people here illegally straining the social services of different communities," or American towns wondering whether "the basic culture of their community is going to be affected negatively by people from, basically, a foreign land," he says....

Most notably, he's passionate that immigration is fundamentally a conservative cause, embodying core Republican values, and the issue is vital to his party's political future. "Part of the reason why I think it's important for me to be out speaking about it is it might cause people to say, well, wait a minute, the president supports it, let me find out why...."

Mr. Bush even has a few words for cultural conservatives, who have perhaps been most resistant to, and most emotional over, immigration reform. He talks of a belief in opportunity, which has defined conservatives for generations. "America is a country whose soul is constantly renewed by people pursuing what has been labeled the American Dream. It's an amazing country where people can come with nothing except for God-given talent and a deep desire to improve their family's lives and succeed." He notes his time in Texas, and how many Latinos he saw arrive, whose offspring "rose to positions of prominence and became significant contributors to our society." He also gets rolling on his hallmark theme, the compassion of Americans, a quality he believes should inspire them to look beyond the political fight to the harsher human realities of this mess. "A system that has encouraged the evolution of an underground network that treats people like a commodity, to be--in many cases, to be exploited--is not right, and it's not American." He sits forward, even gets a little, well, emotional. "We are a country of law, and we ought to uphold the law. But the system in place now has created a whole group of people who are evasive of the law and, therefore, people suffer--good, decent people suffer, whether they be people paying coyotes a large sum of money relative to their income in order to be stuffed in the bottom of an 18-wheeler, or guides that they pay that then drop them off in the deserts and wish them all the best, or document forgers or innkeepers that exploit these poor people, who are mostly looking just for a chance to feed their families."
Here's what Bush said about claims of amnesty:

"This word 'amnesty' is often used to create confusion and doubt and anger. The definition of amnesty ought to be that you are allowed to become a citizen without paying any price, whatsoever. I strongly oppose that, and most of the authors of this comprehensive bill oppose that," he says. He adds that "if you're going to try to unwind immigration--the immigration bill--it's not right for the country. I'm not questioning anybody's patriotism of course, but I feel strongly that if one were to kill this bill . . . that there will be a consequence . . . from voters coming down the road, and more importantly, a consequence for the country."
I wrote critically -- earlier in the week -- on Time 's cover story supporting amnesty ("The Tear-Jerker Case for Amnesty"), and that post was generally well received (and I appreciate the positive feedback).

Of course, there are some strange fringe elements in the blogosphere (they often show up in my comments, with the most whacked-out variety being zapped with a quick click of the delete key), so let me be clear: I agree with the president: The Senate bill is not amnesty, but is rather an earned path to legalization. We need immigration reform, and if this bill fails -- for all of its flaws -- the U.S. might not achieve reform for years.

Border security, obviously, is paramount; but if people think that the country's going to round up over 12 million people and send them off to their countries of origin, it's not just going to happen. I hate the idea that we are losing our sovereignty. Believe me, I'm from a border state, and I see the weakening of the dominant culture right here in Southern California (see my recent post, "
Hispanic Assimilation and the Immigration Debate," for more information). Yet, depending on how survey questionnaires are designed, a majority of Americans supports conditional legalization of aliens, not amnesty. Americans -- myself included -- are pragmatic: If there are real penalties and procedures required before legal status is obtained, we should move forward, continuing our welcoming -- and conservative -- tradition of melting-pot assimilation.

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