Jeb Bush's Immigration Problem

Posted: Jan 03, 2015 10:30 AM

Clint Bolick, co-founder of the Institute for Justice, had an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Friday defending Jeb Bush's position on immigration. 

Bolick co-wrote a 2013 book with Bush on immigration and he wants conservatives to know that if they "get past false depictions and consider his ideas on the merits, they will find much to applaud."

If only that were true.

The centerpiece of Bush's immigration plan is a guest-worker program that would allow participants in the program to eventually become U.S. citizens. Bolick claims this program will "ease pressure on illegal immigration." 

And if you believe the federal government is good at matching employers with employees, making sure those employees stay with those employers, and accurately estimating how many guest workers every industry in American will need, then sure, it sounds like a good program.

But, if you are a bit more skeptical of the federal government's ability to manage labor markets, then the program is destined to be a complete disaster. 

How will the federal government determine how many guest workers to let in each year? How many workers will each industry get? How much will they be paid? Who decides which which employers get cheap foreign labor and which employers have to raise their wages to attract U.S. citizens?

Bolick says that guest worker cards "would be renewable annually so long as jobs are available." Are we to believe that after living in the U.S. for four to six years these "temporary" workers will just self-deport during every recession? And if they don't, how can we be sure a President Chelsea Clinton would deport them?

Bolick assures us that "many guest workers would return regularly to their families." But what if they don't? What if they bring their families here? After all, Bush has already told us that crossing the border isn't a felony, "it's an act of love." Only a monster would deport a hard working immigrant whose only crime was reuniting his family here in the United States.

And that is where Bush's entire immigration policy breaks down. He says he wants to refocus immigration policy away from "family preferences" and towards "work and skills." But the workers that do come here are people. They either already have families they will want to bring here with them, or they will start families here. The United States is the greatest country in the world. Once established here, very few immigrants want to return home.

Finally, and perhaps worst of all, Bush just has a terribly tin ear on the issue. His "act of love" comment referenced above is downright Shakespearean compared to his claim that "immigrants are more fertile" than native born women.

True, Bush wasn't making any racial claim about immigrants. He just meant that child-bearing aged immigrant women tend to have more babies than women born in the U.S. But it just sounded awful. And once he is no longer the media's moderate Republican darling, once he would be the Republican nominee, Bush would get crucified for his verbal missteps on immigration, instead of getting the benefit of the doubt as he does now.

Whoever the Republican Party nominates in 2016 will have a far more compassionate position on immigration than most people in the media assume now. But Bush just does not have the history or the rhetorical talent to be that guy.