President Bush is deeply committed to immigration reform, an issue on which he clearly hoped to establish a lasting legacy when he came into office five years ago. As the former governor of a border state, Bush had real-world experience dealing with the flow of immigrants into this country -- legal and illegal -- and recognized both the benefits and challenges these groups present. But his efforts to enact sweeping changes in our laws that would have opened our doors to more much-needed workers, thereby reducing the flow of illegal immigrants, was derailed first by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and then by rebellion within his own party. This week Bush tried once again to jump-start an immigration reform agenda, but it remains to be seen whether he can overcome the opposition of those who simply want to shut our borders.
Speaking at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base outside Tucson, Ariz., the president tried to strike a balance between being tough on illegal immigration while encouraging changes in the law that would allow more people to come here legally. It's the right approach, but not necessarily one that will convince his critics on the right. Bush promised to add more border patrol agents, build physical barriers where feasible, return Mexican illegal aliens to their hometowns when apprehended (rather than sending them just across the border), and end the policy of "catch and release," which allows most non-Mexican illegal immigrants who are captured to avoid detention altogether. He also promised better internal border enforcement, with increased emphasis on punishing employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens. These measures are good ideas in their own right, but they will only have an incremental effect at reducing illegal immigration unless Congress enacts a guest worker program and expanded legal immigration, as the president also outlined. Yet many of those who scream the loudest about stopping illegal immigration want no part of the latter, especially if it allows illegal aliens currently in the country to participate.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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