President Bush got it just right for once. His immigration speech had all the key moves he needs to keep his base in order and to reach out to the Latino voters who are the political future of the Republican Party.
He began with the wall — the border fence. Whether made of concrete or of high-tech instrumentation, he has finally embraced the reality that border agents, no matter how numerous, cannot police a 2,000-mile border. And Americans have no reason to have faith that they can. Only a fence can control the massive flow of immigrants across our borders and give Americans some sense of control over our own country.
By addressing the problem as one of sovereignty, Bush said it just right. A country that can’t control who comes in is not sovereign.
Bush resisted the crazier appeals the frustrated elements of his core support would have urged on him. He did not require that we round up millions of Mexicans, Gestapo style, and force them to go back over the border. He conceded that there is a difference between those who have been here for years and recent arrivals, and he did not require illegals to go home and touch go in order to come back again.
This is not a children’s game, and the massive migrations such a requirement would have imposed would have made us into a totalitarian state, rooting out residents, albeit illegal ones, by knocks on their doors late at night. Nor did he take the demagogic approach and further criminalize illegal immigration by making it a felony.
He also satisfied the core demands and needs of the Hispanic community, assuring that the Republican Party will have a future as their ranks in our voter population swell. He set out a path by which Latinos can come here legally, matched with jobs and willing employers. If illegal immigrants disappeared, so would much of our economy, and Bush realized this in his guest-worker program.
His attempts to differentiate between legal paths to citizenship and amnesty were a bit strained and will undoubtedly attract much-deserved criticism, but his attempt was a good one. The fact is that those who do learn English, resist drugs, remain arrest-free, pay taxes, contribute to FICA and remain employed should become citizens after the passage of a certain time if they wish to do so. These are the sort of citizens we want and need, regardless of their accents or their skin colors.
And by emphasizing English, Bush repeats the fundamental credo of the melting pot or of our national motto: “Out of many, one.”