George W. Bush, having proposed massive reform of immigration policy, will certainly catch it in the neck from both sides in this long-running debate -- the too-muchers and the not-enoughers.
The plan that Bush introduced last week calls for renewable three-year visas allowing foreign-born workers to take jobs unfilled by Americans. Those workers here now would have to register and pay a fee. An employer could bring in additional workers by certifying the need. Temporary workers seeking citizenship would enjoy no special treatment. Most, when their jobs end, would be expected to go home.
The Bush plan, in short, has something to offend almost everyone. Conservatives who see the plan as amnesty in drag are unhappy. Democrats whose favorite theme is the disappearance of American jobs are unhappy. The Democratic presidential candidates, unhappy about everything under the sun, are unhappiest of all. Business was reasonably happy, as was Mexico's Vicente Fox, when Bush laid the plan before him at the Summit of the Americas. But that doesn't push the plan through to fulfillment.
Why so much perplexity? In large measure, it is because most of us don't like dealing with bothersome and intractable realities.
Immigration is the thorniest of realities. On the one hand, a nation has the right to say who comes in and who doesn't. On the other hand, cars, airplanes, TV, movies, free trade and commercial interdependency have drawn the world together in a way wondrous to see. You could fairly say that society is becoming global: not exclusively this, that or the other, but a mishmash. All this is happening regardless of our druthers.
The Arabs, for instance, may not like Americans or the American way of life, but for various reasons, including the need to sell us oil, they can't do without us. Nor can we exactly look the other way when Arabs of a particular stripe attack the American homeland, murdering Americans.
Likewise, our economy -- what with the current low level of baby-boomer procreation -- demands more services than the native born can supply. You say we don't truly need all those motel rooms that non-American workers clean? Well, maybe not. But we say we do by staying in those rooms. Likewise, if it weren't for all those homeowners too busy, or too lazy, to mow their own lawns, there would be no Hispanic yard crews. But there are.