The most important part of Monday night’s speech by President Bush on immigration was not his call for sending unarmed National Guardsmen to temporarily assist the Border Patrol.
Rather, it was his formal embrace, for the first time, of citizenship for illegal aliens.
When he first laid out his view on a foreign-worker program two years ago, he was explicit that illegal aliens could sign up but that “this program expects temporary workers to return permanently to their home countries after their period of work in the United States has expired.”
Last night, the president rightly emphasized security, and rightly stressed the importance of assimilation–while advocating a policy that would make assimilation much harder. He adopted the position of Senators Kennedy and McCain and other amnesty supporters, saying that illegal aliens who meet certain conditions should be able to apply for citizenship. He denied that this represented amnesty because “approval would not be automatic”–but when have immigrants ever received “automatic” citizenship?
If the purpose of the speech was to shore up the president’s standing with conservatives, it failed. This administration’s lack of credibility on immigration enforcement can’t be reversed by adding a few National Guard references to its tired rhetoric of unmanned aerial vehicles and more detention beds.
Only action can reverse doubts about the White House’s commitment to enforcement–and even the positive actions the administration has taken are less than they appear. For instance, the president pledged (yet again) to end the practice of “catch and release” for non-Mexican illegals at the border. The immigration service has indeed made progress in adding detention space for such people and speeding their return home, but is still releasing captured illegals back into communities.
Likewise, the arrests several weeks ago of nearly 1,200 illegal aliens working for IFCO Systems were widely touted as heralding a new wave of legal action against crooked employers–but then most of the illegals were released within hours of the raids.
Finally, President Bush reassured an anxious Mexican president Vicente Fox over the weekend that any deployment would be only temporary, and that the regular Army would not be involved–in other words, “Don’t worry, Señor Presidente, it’s just symbolism.”
As for the Senate’s compromise bill, the Heritage Foundation has released research that should torpedo it. Robert Rector, one of the nation’s leading authorities on poverty and welfare, has estimated that the bill would admit a staggering 103 million people over the next two decades and represent “the largest expansion of the welfare state in 35 years.” Supporters of the bill call their approach “comprehensive,” and they’re right: They aren’t content merely to deal with the current illegal population or to address a supposed shortage of unskilled labor, but want to effect a massive demographic reshuffling of America while they’re at it.
In his Oval Office address, the president squandered what was probably his last chance to reconnect with conservatives on immigration. They will undoubtedly note that the president has waited six years to start talking about enforcement, and will accordingly ask why he can’t postpone his amnesty long enough to give enforcement at try? A speech that had reiterated his support for amnesty in theory, but conceded that enforcement had to come first, would likely have won significant public approval and helped shape events in Congress. The speech he actually gave, on the other hand, is likely further to demoralize conservatives and harden opposition among House Republicans to the Senate amnesty proposal. President Bush’s speech, contrary to its goal, probably ensures that no immigration bill will reach his desk this year. Given the options, that’s probably a good thing.