On the day before President Bush launched his new border security/guest worker proposal, he was almost upstaged by a timely and telling U.S. Border Patrol complaint: The labels on the agents uniforms read, "Made in Mexico."
It's "embarrassing" to wear a uniform made in Mexico while protecting the country's border with Mexico," T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the border cops' 6,500-member union, told the Associated Press.
Outsourced government uniforms also symbolize the real world with which President Bush must reckon. Borders, artifacts of the political world, crumble these days before the relentless pressures of the money world. The President, a businessman who happens to occupy the world's most powerful political office, has come up with an immigration plan that tries to satisfy both worlds and fails.
For one thing, his plan is not new. It's the same temporary guest worker proposal he unveiled in January 2004. It has only been repackaged with more emphasis on border security, much less on the guest worker plan, which sounds to many in Bush's own conservative base like another amnesty, similar to others passed since the 1980s. To critics, amnesties only reward lawbreakers.
His 2004 speech was headlined on the White House Web site as, "President Bush Proposes New Temporary Worker Program." His new push, launched earlier this week (Monday, Nov. 28) was headlined, "President Discusses Border Security and Immigration Reform in Arizona." Temporary workers? He didn't discuss them until the final quarter of his speech.
But, he's not flip-flopping. He's merely trying to calm the rising political storm that he helped to generate. Over the past year or so, the issue has erupted in an anti-immigrant backlash highlighted by a Minuteman Movement of volunteer civilian border patrollers.
The issue tells us a lot about Bush. Immigration has been one of his signature issues, although from a decidedly pro-business point of view. Since his days as Texas governor, he has seen win-win benefits in immigration policies that would supply employers with cheap immigrant labor and lure immigrant voters, particularly Hispanics, to the Republican Party.
But these days, immigration divides his conservative base more deeply than any issue since Harriet Miers' doomed Supreme Court nomination. His border-security/guest-worker scheme could easily meet that same unhappy end. Some of his most outspoken fellow conservatives are calling for a range of anti-immigrant measures. Some proposals are as radical as a wall along the entire 2,000-mile Mexican border, using military forces to patrol the border and creating a volunteer marshal program to help patrols.
One bill sponsored by Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) would go so far as to end this nation's time-honored practice of granting automatic citizenship to children born here of undocumented immigrants. Deal's suggestion is sad, unnecessary and, I am confident, far outside the mainstream of how fair-minded Americans really feel about immigration. For example, a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey in April found that 67 per cent of respondents favored using the military to guard the Mexican border, but 62 percent favored allowing undocumented immigrants now working in the United States to apply for legal, temporary worker status.
That's what Bush wants and he cautions that his plan is not another "amnesty." But, on closer examination, one wonders: If Bush's guest-worker plan is not an amnesty, what is? His program would allow immigrants now illegally in the U.S. to obtain legal status for three years, with the possibility of another three-year extension if they have a job and their employer vouches for them. The workers would be required to go home after their time is up, but the president has been vague about what is to be done about those who decide they don't want to go home.
What's missing from his proposal is a serious crackdown on the biggest magnet that draws illegal immigrants: jobs. Employers love cheap labor. So do consumers, as long as it leads to cheaper prices and does not compete directly for their own jobs. Bush shows no desire to get in the way of that cozy relationship.
We don't need tougher penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegals; we only need to enforce the tough penalties that already have been legislated. Instead, employer sanctions have been so poorly enforced that actual prosecutions of employers have plummeted in recent decades. When the law lacks teeth, it is ignored.
The result has been a make-believe immigration policy: The president pretends that undocumented workers will police themselves and the rest of us pretend to believe him.
We need something more sensible than that. America thrives on immigration. It is part of our national character. But we also need some semblance of order and fairness!