As the former governor from a border state with Mexico, President Bush was all-too familiar with the on-the-ground realities of America’s immigration policies and its southern international borders. In 2001, his first year in office, Bush sought a new trade treaty with Mexico that included several common-sense immigration reforms, including an expanded guest-worker program. Progress was being made.
Then Sept. 11, 2001, happened.
As Bloomberg’s Businessweek reported this week, following the 9/11 attacks, “lawmakers were in no mood to open doors to more immigrants.” And, several years later, “by the time Bush resuscitated his domestic immigration reform efforts … he didn’t consult Mexico.”
That’s relevant today because the Gang of Eight lawmakers in Washington have written an 844-page immigration reform bill that the Senate Judiciary Committee may vote on next week. President Obama continues to maintain that he expects a workable immigration-reform bill to become law this year.
It’s also relevant because Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and a member of the Gang of Eight, has written in the Wall Street Journal that “the conservative movement should lead on immigration reform.”
If only the conservative Bush’s reforms had been enacted more than a decade ago. Instead, America sits today in roughly the same situation — with more than 10 million illegal immigrants inside its borders and national politicians still seeking a plausible solution that’s fair, humane and legally enforceable. Instead of constructive debates, Americans have been subjected to years of heated political rhetoric that often turn a multifaceted, complex issue into a fictional two-sided coin of crank opinions: either send ’em all home or grant them all amnesty.
Perhaps the main difference between 2001 and now is that recent years have seen states such as ours, Alabama, pass xenophobic illegal-immigration laws rooted in discrimination, nothing else. Among other things, federal inaction was the tender that fueled those fires.
In his Journal op-ed, Rubio made a compelling point we assume Americans of most any political taste could accept. The overwhelming majority of Americans, Rubio wrote, “understand that the status quo on immigration is unacceptable. They support modernizing the legal immigration system and accommodating those who are now in the U.S. legally, but only if we secure the border and make sure that another wave of illegal immigration doesn’t happen.”
We expect the debate over the Gang of Eight bill to be intense and lengthy. For it to produce true immigration reform, what it can’t become is a partisan stool on which ideologues sit and spew their reasons why the status quo is indeed acceptable.