President Bush on Monday visited a Border Patrol station in Yuma, Ariz., to issue tough talk about border control, an effort to win support for comprehensive immigration reform among conservative members of his own party.
“We need a comprehensive bill, and that’s what I’m working with members of Congress on, a comprehensive immigration bill,” Bush said. “And now is the year to get it done.”
“The first element, of course, is to secure this border,” he said. “That’s what I’m down here for, to remind the American people that we’re spending their taxpayer–their money, taxpayers’ money–on securing the border. And we’re making progress. This border should be open to trade and lawful immigration, and shut down to criminals and drug dealers and terrorists and coyotes and smugglers, people who prey on innocent life.”
Bush said family values don’t “stop at the Rio Grande River.”
“People are coming here to put food on the table, and they’re doing jobs Americans are not doing,” he said. “And the farmers in this part of the world understand exactly what I’m saying. But so do a lot of other folks around the country. People are coming to work, and many of them have no lawful way to come to America, and so they’re sneaking in.”
Bush said illegal immigration burdens America’s schools and hospitals, strains budgets of communities and contributes to crime.
In addition to securing the border, Bush said, a comprehensive immigration plan should include a program for temporary workers, hold employers accountable for who they hire and decide what to do with illegal immigrants already living in the country.
“It is impractical to take the position that, oh, we’ll just find the 11 million or 12 million people and send them home,” he said. “It’s just an impractical position. It’s not going to work. It may sound good. It may make nice sound bite news. It won’t happen.”
The White House has floated a proposal that would grant undocumented immigrants work visas but require them to return home to apply for U.S. residency and pay a $10,000 fine. They would qualify for three-year work visas dubbed “Z” visas, renewable indefinitely at a cost of $3,500 each time.
Aimed at appeasing conservative Republicans, who oppose what they call “amnesty” for people who enter America illegally, the compromise has produced political bedfellows as unlikely as Sen. Ted Kennedy and the Southern Baptist Convention’s head Richard Land, who appeared together at a press conference calling for moral comprehensive immigration reform.
The president’s outreach to the right, meanwhile, angered immigration-rights activists. They felt betrayed by Bush, whom they considered an ally, who has repeatedly said he supports providing a path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants.
Thousands of people marched Saturday through downtown Los Angeles protesting the White House proposal. A marcher quoted by the Associated Press said Bush’s plan would cost more for legal migration than what is charged by “coyotes,” the term for smugglers who illegally transport people across the Mexican border.
“Once again the President and Congress are attempting to deal with the symptoms rather then with the cause of immigration,” Miguel De La Torre, a Baptist ethicist and Cuban-American, said in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com. “While the president is correct that the borders are crossed in search of jobs to feed families, he fails to ask the question why there are no jobs in their own homeland. The reason they keep coming is our domestic and foreign economic policies.”
De La Torre, a columnist for EthicsDaily.com who teaches at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, said because of U.S. farm subsidies, growing corn in Mexico is a money-losing proposition. Foreign policies through NAFTA have made Mexicans poorer over the last 10 years, he said, forcing greater numbers to head north.
“We create unequal trade agreements that enrich us, and a small elite in the global South, and then we wonder why we have an immigration problem,” he said. “But then again, it is cheaper to build walls and deploy advanced technology than to seek justice for the least of these.”
Daniel Carro, a professor at John Leland Center for Theological Studies, a Baptist seminary in metro Washington, D.C., said he agrees with President Bush about legalizing undocumented workers so they don’t fall prey to criminal behavior and the need for reforming immigration law to make it more relevant and enforceable.
But Carro said he is not sure the president is right about policing the border.
“Why we do not need fences and heavy policing on the border with Canada?” Carro asked. “Just because the situation there is different: There is not so much inequality.”
Carro said the question of border control, not only in the U.S but around the world, is the same. It’s about equalizing the standard of living on both sides of the border.
“Until that inequality is addressed on a firmer way, I do not see much success on just building fences or policing the border,” he said. “In most cases, the reason people leave their nations–as President Bush noted–is to seek a better life for themselves and their families. They are forced by social and economic circumstances in their home countries to do so.”
Carro said most Latinos he knows want to abide by the law.
“They want to behave and be good citizens,” he said. “It is not true they do not want to assimilate to the culture. They want to learn English and be given opportunities. They are holding this country to its gained reputation of the land of opportunity.”
“Let’s give them true opportunities, and let them be the true force that will revive the nerve of this country from its bones,” Carro said. “If we allow them to assimilate to the culture, they will be a positive force, I think.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.