Editor’s note: On Monday night, President George W. Bush delivered a primetime address on immigration. National Review Online gathered a group of experts to react to it. Read their analysis below.
President Bush has a huge disadvantage when talking about immigration reform: He is not credible. He spent more than half his time discussing border enforcement, a subject that has not interested him before. Perhaps at the next press conference someone will ask why he did not take the meager steps outlined last night soon after 9/11.
He added a new rationale for a guest-worker program. Not only does Bush buy into the idea that guest-workers do jobs that “Americans are not doing,” he also believes that guest-workers are needed because the increased border enforcement and the new-and-improved employer sanctions cannot stem the tide of illegal immigration. How’s that for declaring defeat before the battle begins? Notably, President Bush skipped the part about how “temporary” guest-workers typically become permanent immigrants.
Finally, the president returned to the amnesty proposal that has obsessed him since the summer of 2001. But the illegals being granted relief will have to “wait in line behind those who play by the rules.” As of last night, some Filipinos have been waiting since November 1, 1983. Somehow, I suspect that Bush’s amnesty does not include a 23-year queue. In short, an untrustworthy and depressing sales pitch.
–George Borjas is Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy at Harvard.
Senator John Cornyn
You might have missed it, but tucked into the president’s speech Monday night was an important commitment to federal assistance for local law enforcement. Legislation that will help meet their needs was also included in the immigration bill that’s now pending before the Senate. But the president’s support for the program–if properly funded–will give a much-needed boost to the men and women now providing needed backup to federal agencies along the border.
This important assistance, sometimes referred to as the 287(g) program, allows state and local law-enforcement officials to enforce our nation’s immigration laws. However, in order to participate in this program, the officers must undergo specialized immigration training and acquire customized equipment before the Department of Homeland Security will certify them. Sheriffs and other law-enforcement agencies are actively pursuing assistance in facilitating training and other support. And the enhanced arrest authority this program provides has empowered local agencies to combat the steady increase of crime and violence stemming from the presence of illegal immigrants already in their communities. But a number of local agencies, particularly smaller jurisdictions along the southern border, lack the resources to send their officers to receive training or to purchase the required equipment and cannot justify local tax increases to carry out what is fundamentally a federal responsibility.
Ultimately, the federal government must live up to its responsibility to secure the border, and the president’s renewed commitment Monday to reach that goal is an important step. But as we increase border-patrol agents, immigration inspectors, and detention beds, we should do all we can to draw on the presence and experience of existing law enforcement across this country to ensure the safety of their communities and, ultimately, the protection of the homeland.
– Senator John Cornyn is a Republican from Texas.
James R. Edwards Jr.
The president confirmed why his job-approval rating on immigration, 29 percent, is lower than his overall approval rating, 31 percent.
Mr. Bush’s primetime televised speech Monday night amounted to more empty words. The speech betrayed that comprehensive immigration reform is really code for amnesty and virtually open borders. Like the Senate, he’s learned nothing from our amnesty experience. Call it what he might, Mr. Bush continued to dangle amnesty before the world. Little wonder why the borders aren’t secured! If the president were serious about controlling immigration, he could reinstate enforcement measures he stopped: Social Security no-match letters to employers, border-patrol interior stings, NSEERS alien registration, for example.
He could stop opposing the CLEAR Act behind closed doors and empower willing state and local law enforcement nationwide. He could stop banks from accepting matricula consular ID cards. He could prosecute several hundred more than the three cases against employers of illegal aliens brought in 2004.
Mr. Bush could send the Army, Marines, and Air Force to the border, instead of the National Guard for a support capacity. He could build a real border barrier from the Gulf to the Pacific. He could stop ratting out the Minutemen to the Mexican government.
Actions speak louder than words. We got plenty more words.
–James R. Edwards Jr. is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute.
James G. Gimpel
The president’s speech was not reassuring and it proves that the business lobby is still driving the bus on this issue over at the White House. The president’s insistence on a “comprehensive” approach was code for “let’s water down anything by way of serious enforcement.” This speech was a broadside directed toward the House GOP, signaling that the White House favors the Senate’s permissive approach.
The speech revealed persistent misunderstandings about immigration and the U.S. economy, but views widely held by highly paid business lobbyists. Toward the end of the speech and after conjuring up a series of romantic immigration images, the president said, “Immigrants are just as they’ve always been.” But that’s not the problem. The problem is that the U.S. is not “what it has always been”–or what it was 100 years ago. Legions of additional low-skill workers cannot be easily absorbed in an economy that increasingly values skills and education. There are already many low-skill natives (and previous immigrants) who are struggling to advance. On this current worrisome policy trajectory, we stand to vastly multiply the number of strugglers, making advancement much more difficult than it was in 1906 when the economy did not require much by way of skills, literacy, and education.
Finally, among those backing the president’s approach, there is no serious reckoning for how the path to legalization will be implemented, and the assumption that there will be widespread willingness to take this path is yet unproven. In the end, it is the implementation of immigration laws that lacks all credibility, not the laws themselves.
– James G. Gimpel is a professor of government at the University of Maryland.
Victor Davis Hanson
The president’s comprehensive proposals include something for everyone:
For the conservative base: tamper-resistant identity cards; the National Guard on the border; employer sanctions; and emphasis on assimilation.
Liberals applaud a sort of earned citizenship without forced deportations; and appreciate Kumbaya rhetoric.
Libertarians and employers get their guest-worker program.
Of course, for those very same reasons no group will be happy. Yet the president mapped out the middle ground that will probably form the parameters of all future debate.
But my own chief worry is that guest-workers will only perpetuate the problem by supplying a continual unassimilated, low-paid, and ultimately volatile underclass. And such a helot program (a cultural and social catastrophe in Europe) is, in fact, antithetical to many of the president’s own proposals. Cheap labor will undermine the wages of the very illegal aliens that are granted residence while they apply for citizenship; it will continually provide the fuel for La Raza and Aztlan romance; and keep fresh the tired ethnic sloganeering and tribal activists who hate assimilation and would die on the vine without fresh victims of “exploitation”–while ensuring that Mexico gets its remittances and avoids reform by exporting its unwanted.
Second, there was nothing specific offered to match the rhetoric of assimilation. Why not introduce court-proof, English-only legislation that would return our federal documents to one language? Or at least proposals in our schools to emphasize the melting pot? Or new patriotic citizenship applications that emphasize English and knowledge and appreciation of American culture?
All in all, I think the speech was politically astute in its emphasis on “transition” and the evolving nature of his remedies, and, pace critics, will probably earn the president more supporters than detractors.
– Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author, most recently, of A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.
J. D. Hayworth
The president last night was unconvincing. The enforcement proposals sounded good, but I don’t think his heart was in it.
The president said the U.S. wouldn’t militarize the border when it’s already been militarized–by the drug smugglers, coyotes, and Mexican troops. He said temporary workers must return to their home country when their work visas expire, but doesn’t tell us what will happen when they don’t.
Under the president’s plan, the more flagrantly you’ve broken the law, the bigger your reward. And if anyone needs a lecture on civility it is Vicente Fox and company, not our fellow Americans.
There was one area of agreement. The president said his plan allowing illegal aliens a pathway to citizenship wasn’t amnesty. He’s right–it’s better than amnesty. Illegal aliens come to work, not to become Americans. The president would let them work and get citizenship as a bonus. They’d also be pardoned for crimes, like using a phony Social Security card, which would land any American in serious trouble.
I was especially disappointed that the president again pushed the canard that some want to round up all illegal aliens. There is not a single elected official in Washington proposing that.
– J. D. Hayworth is a congressman from Arizona. He is author of Whatever It Takes.
All in all, a missed opportunity.
The president has finally got it right by emphasizing the enforcement of our immigration laws as foundational to the other aspects of comprehensive reform. His call for 6,000 additional border-patrol positions, financial incentives for state and local cooperation with federal immigration officials, the deployment of the national guard in a supportive capacity, and the use of advanced technology and barriers along our southern border, all act as a force multiplier with respect to our immigration enforcement capacity.
As the author of the provisions in the House immigration bill, which would end the catch-and-release program for “other than Mexicans,” I commend the president for his recognition that we must end this practice and increase our detention capacity.
The president’s recognition of the need for a verifiable form of identification is essential if we are to be successful in demagnetizing the attraction of unlawful employment. At the same time a temporary-worker program can contribute to regulating the flow of illegal immigration and making the job of the border patrol more manageable. However, it must in fact be temporary, and must not be conflated with a disguised amnesty.
– Dan Lungren is a Republican member of the House of Representatives from California.
Heather Mac Donald
Dangling strings of shiny trinkets, President Bush tried last night to make contact with the restive natives. Six thousand National Guard troops on the border! Infrared cameras! Biometric work cards! Those baubles will dazzle ‘em, the Bush speechwriters must have concluded, and they’ll never notice that we’ve changed nothing in the border-breaking status quo.
Creating a biometric card is meaningless if you don’t penalize employers who ignore it. No fortifications at the border can withstand the avalanche of people seeking to violate our laws so long as they know that once they get across the border, they’re home free in a 3,000-square-mile sanctuary zone. But Bush said nothing about worksite enforcement. If this administration wanted to end illegal immigration, it would exchange those 6,000 National Guard troops for 6000 immigration agents with the mandate to enforce the laws that Congress passed 20 years ago.
Nowhere was the White House’s contempt for the American people more manifest than in Bush’s double-talk on amnesty, however.
First he demonizes those who have argued for immigration-law enforcement and grotesquely distorts their position: “Some argue that the solution is to deport every illegal alien and that anything short of that is amnesty,” Bush alleged.
I know of no one who has called for deporting every illegal alien. Instead, thoughtful analysts like Mark Krikorian have laid out the attrition strategy: Engage in just a little bit of enforcement to create a huge deterrent effect. After DHS deported 1,500 illegal Pakistanis following 9/11, 15,000 more left on their own.
And opponents of amnesty do not argue that anything short of mass deportations equals amnesty. They make a much simpler argument: Amnesty equals amnesty. Bush’s advisers apparently think that the public can be fooled into believing that if there are a few procedural requirements to gaining legal status, the end result–amnesty–simply disappears. Those procedural requirements are themselves a joke. As Mickey Kaus has explained, Bush’s “illegals-must-wait-at-the-end-of-the-line” line is a con: by remaining in the country and jumping into the citizenship line, rather than the visa line, illegals have catapulted way ahead of law-abiding intending immigrants waiting in their home countries for a visa. But even if the procedural requirements for amnesty were grueling, the final result is the same: people who are in violation of the law are granted lawful status.
The tens of millions of aliens contemplating an illegal trip across the border will grasp that truth immediately; the Bush team thinks that the American public will not be so quick to see through the bait-and-switch bromides. The next month will tell if that gamble is right.
– Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor at City Journal.
I listened to the speech with some nervousness because my Chicago Sun-Times column was a critique of it, written and sent to press about two hours before Mr. Bush began speaking. (No shameful Fleet Street tabloid deception here–I leveled with the readers.) But would I be shown up as a laughably out-of-touch hack who had forecast all kinds of arguments the president never said and whose criticisms were accordingly wide of the mark?
Within minutes–no, seconds–I knew I was safe. Every misleading point I had deconstructed, every shallow rhetorical device I had unraveled, every omission I had forecast–all were trotted out, present and incorrect. None of this suggests any great insight on my part. The speech was a tired and tiring repetition of all the president’s previous sayings on immigration. Like them it was designed to suggest that he would be tough on border security and illegal immigration when in fact the small print of his proposals amounts to the “open door” that he celebrated in his peroration.
Take the idea of sending the National Guard to the border. This idea seems to shrink hourly so as not to offend Vicente Fox. The guard will now apparently play a purely advisory role in defending the country. But why will stepped-up border enforcement be needed if anyone who can contrive a job offer from a “willing employer” can be admitted perfectly legally? Tough talk about border security is simply camouflage for Bush’s policy of halting illegal immigration by the simple device of making it legal. Prospectively legal in the case of his guest-worker program, retrospectively legal as regards his “not an amnesty” amnesty.
Nor is the National Guard idea anything new. If you type “Bush,” “border security,” and “new initiative” into Google, almost 15,000 entries pop up.
To judge from reactions to the speech, however, there are some conservatives willing to be fooled fifteen thousand times. Still, there is an interesting division within the reactions. Those who follow the immigration debate closely were almost uniformly derisive about the speech. They know the details behind the rhetoric: for instance, that the president’s assurance that illegals will have to go to the back of the line behind legal immigrants actually means that they will be given the right of U.S. residency right away. Those who tuned in to the debate only recently, presumably most Americans, take the misleading rhetoric seriously. That is why the initial reception to the speech is likely to be more approving than the final verdict of most Americans when they learn that it promises the arrival of at least 103 million more people in the next 20 years and additional costs to the U.S. taxpayer of $30 billion annually. At least–in both cases.
When a presidential adviser was asked how such proposals could pass, he replied that the White House would marginalize their opponents. Oddly enough, though these opponents are about 70 percent of the American people, Bush may temporarily succeed in marginalizing them, at least inside the Beltway. But the long-term effect will be to marginalize the Republican party. Look at the Democrats smiling behind their hands–they have just been given the kiss of life.
— John O’Sullivan is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington and editor-at-large of National Review. He is currently writing a book on Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.
President Bush was good last night, strong on border issues and powerful on the idea of assimilation. The problem is that, no matter how many times he denies it, he favors amnesty.
This is underscored by the striking similarities between this proposal and the Immigration Control and Reform Act of 1986, which was neither “automatic citizenship” nor mass deportation. It, too, required several conditions, including added fees, learning English, background checks, and signing up for military service. The difference was that Reagan and everyone at the time discussed it for what it was: amnesty.
But however well intentioned, and even reasonable, the IRCA amnesty approach was a complete failure. Massive document fraud expanded the numbers, enforcement became politically objectionable and illegal immigration flourished. We’ve been there and done that before.
Let’s secure the borders, strengthen enforcement, and begin designing a reasonable and limited temporary-worker program. Deeply embedded illegal aliens here now can appeal to the courts for “extreme hardship,” and several millions will be legalized over time because their U.S.-born children can gain them legalization. Amnesty is unfair, and isn’t necessary. And it’s not a good first step down the path to citizenship.
– Matthew Spalding is the director of the Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation.