Politics & Policy

Jeb’s Gibberish

Sure, some illegal immigrants are acting out of love. So what?

You’d think that someone who put his name on a book about immigration would at least know a little bit about it. I’m afraid that may not be the case, if Jeb Bush’s recent comments on illegal immigration are any indication.

His “act of love” comment is what’s gotten everyone’s attention, and I agree with Ramesh’s take on the Corner to the extent that there’s some truth to what Jeb said:

Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony; it’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that this is a different kind of crime. 

The problem is that doesn’t tell us very much. Bernie Madoff and Vito Corleone were devoted to their wives and children too.

And he should know perfectly well that jumping the border is a misdemeanor on the first offense, and overstaying a visa is not a criminal offense at all, only a civil one (at least for now). It’s a felony only if you sneak back in after having been deported. Also, identity theft can be a felony; likewise with tax fraud, Social Security fraud, perjury, and the many other offenses committed by “otherwise law-abiding” illegal aliens. Should all those crimes be ignored as well? Are they “different kinds of crimes” too?

That comparison to Madoff or the Godfather isn’t really fair, of course, because Jeb was claiming illegal aliens are forced to come here to feed their families: “The dad who loved their children was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table.” Okay, but aren’t there shoplifters, car thieves, and welfare cheats in the same position? Are those “different kinds of crime” because of the use the proceeds of the crime would be put to?

Jeb’s unspoken assumption is that people in the United States who can’t lawfully feed their children can rely on welfare, rather than shoplifting and car theft. Mexico, by his telling, is such a dysfunctional hellhole that even hard-working people can’t find honest work and will go hungry as a result. Prospective illegal aliens find themselves in a “Les Misérables” situation, stealing bread — i.e., jobs in the United States — to feed starving children.

This is horse flop. Mexico is an upper-middle-income country by world standards, with a per capita GDP, in purchasing-power parity terms, greater than that of Turkey, Brazil, Romania, Iran, South Africa, or Thailand. You want real poverty, try Congo or Zimbabwe, Somalia or Afghanistan. Funny that he’s not calling for unlimited immigration from those countries instead. For someone who makes a habit of assuring Mexicans that “I understand your people,” Jeb seems to have a remarkably one-dimensional view of the place.

Also, almost all Mexican immigrant workers in the U.S. had jobs in Mexico before they chose to come here. As the late Robert Pastor, no immigration restrictionist by any means, put it:

Surveys of Mexican undocumented workers in the United States discovered that as many as 93% had jobs in Mexico before they came to the United States so they are not coming for jobs. Their motive is income; for similar work, they can earn six to ten times as much in the United States as in Mexico.

Wanting a higher salary is a perfectly normal and laudable ambition. But it depends on how you go about it. Sneaking into someone else’s country in violation of their laws, stealing American children’s identities, engaging in tax fraud, and then being subsidized by the taxpayers of the country where you are an intruder is not laudable.

And his comments on visa overstayers were bizarre:

​​Forty percent of illegal immigrants come with legal visas and they overstay their balance. A great country ought to know where those folks are and politely ask them to leave. Now you’ve cut out 6 million people and if you did that as it occurs, that would restore people’s confidence.

That’s actually quite sound, except that he followed it up with his paean to Mexican border-jumpers acting out of love. Can’t overstaying your visa be an act of love? What’s the difference between someone planning to infiltrate our border to get a better-paying job and another person planning to overstay a tourist visa to get a better-paying job? And if we can politely ask visa-overstayers to leave, why can’t we politely ask border-infiltrators to leave as well? 

But putting aside all the ignorance and illogic, Jeb’s view of the issue is clear from this fragment: “The way I look at this, someone who comes into our country because they couldn’t come legally . . .” In the decision tree of immigration policy-making, the first branch is this: Can everyone in the world move to the United States, or are there going to be legal limits, limits that must be enforced even against people engaged in “an act of love”? When Jeb excuses illegal immigration “because they couldn’t come legally,” he’s betraying his view that anyone in the world who wants to come here must be permitted to do so. Stopping them is the opposite of an “act of love.”

And so, Jeb Bush’s immigration policy in a single sentence: Any limit on immigration is an act of hate.

— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.


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