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Credit Bush for Raising Immigration Debate
by Trevor Bothwell
13 January 2004GWB

While Bush’s immigration bill may be the best we can hope for at this point, its very existence is nevertheless proof that Republicans and conservatives continue to concede principle when they should be acting on it.


If there’s one positive element to President Bush’s recent proposals for (illegal) immigration reform, it has demonstrated that Republicans, unlike most Democrats today, still collectively refuse to toe designated party lines. In other words, it looks like we still have one party of independent thinkers remaining.

Aside from Senators Joe Lieberman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Bob Kerrey, one was hard-pressed to find a Democrat willing to denounce Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky. In contrast, it’s difficult to find much collective agreement among conservatives or within the Republican Party following Bush’s announcement January 7th.

One reason for this is probably because the problem of illegal immigration is a mess. It has grown so far out of control that it isn’t unreasonable that after years of inviting cheap illegal laborers, no one really knows where to begin reining it in.

Bush’s plan would allow undocumented workers, who represent an unknown percentage of at least 8 million illegal aliens, to work legally in the U.S. The president said, "One of the primary reasons America became a great power in the 20th century is because we welcomed the talent and the character and the patriotism of immigrant families."

President Bush has to realize these were primarily legal immigrant families, right?

Syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg believes the president is making the best of a nearly hopeless situation. His argument is that, even if we wanted to, it would be practically impossible to round up every illegal alien: "Illegal immigration is similar to issues such as gay marriage or Middle East peace. Such problems evolve over decades and the 'facts on the ground' defy rational solutions on drawing boards."

On the other hand, columnist David Limbaugh, who views the president’s new plan as a reward for criminals breaking our laws, says Mr. Bush “has stretched the patience of conservatives too far on this one.”

I think Goldberg and Limbaugh are both right. But while problems do “evolve over decades,” there are always causes behind the evolution of ideas.

For years now conservatives have been willing to stand by and watch liberals, relying on activist judges to do their legislative dirty work for them, rewrite history and our Constitution. Senate Democrats refuse to allow votes for Bush’s judicial appointees, while Republicans do little more than sit around and watch as the ACLU routinely crucifies the Boy Scouts and a Massachusetts court rules in favor of gay marriage. Do they even care that in only a few months the words “under God” will likely be stricken from the Pledge by the Supreme Court?

While Bush’s immigration bill may be the best we can hope for at this point, its very existence is nevertheless proof that Republicans and conservatives continue to concede principle when they should be acting on it. It may be too little too late for true immigration reform, but we have cultivated this problem over the years through our refusal to enforce our laws and mow our own lawns. (It should be pointed out that these are bipartisan responsibilities, but we could usually count on Republicans to say, “Enough’s enough.”)

Every president seeking reelection understands the value of triangulation leading up to an election year, as do his constituents. Most fiscal conservatives were justifiably upset with Bush's prescription drug plan last November; indeed, some congressional Republicans were downright vicious to the handful of their Republican partners who stood their ground in opposition to this bill in the hours before its narrow passage. But at the same time, conservatives realize that this will help Bush fend off attacks from his opponents along the campaign trail later this year.

However, some issues plainly mustn't be politicized. Which is why I’m hoping Bush’s immigration reform plan was born of his intention to deal most practically with a realistic problem, and isn’t solely a political maneuver.

While many critics believe Bush’s proposals are timed to attract the Hispanic vote in the upcoming election, there’s no guarantee this will automatically confer upon the president desirable support from this community. He has to know this. Indeed, there’s probably a good chance this perceived alienation of his conservative base will outweigh any gains he’ll make within the Hispanic population.

Nonetheless, illegal immigration has been habitually ignored for far too long; Mr. Bush is merely the most recent president with the capacity to enact meaningful reform. And as he’s shown in his prosecution of the war, Bush isn’t afraid to act on his convictions. So we should at least give him credit for raising a serious issue in need of much debate.

Bush’s proposal for getting illegal immigration under control will finally set the table for Americans to determine what should be done hereafter with this mess. In fact, this is what we should expect of our president. Let’s just hope Mr. Limbaugh’s concern about conservatives’ patience being stretched too thin isn’t prophetic, and that voters will decide to afford President Bush four more years to help us figure it out.

Trevor Bothwell is the editor of The Right Report
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