Wednesday, May 03, 2006

On Being a "Bush Apologist": The Case of Immigration

Anyone who publicly supports a Bush Administration policy soon encounters the accusation that he is a “Bush apologist.” The term is an interesting one. It is, of course, dismissive and meant to be. It both downgrades the integrity of the supporter and relieves the accuser of any obligation to consider the facts of a particular debate. But there is more to it than that.

Being an “apologist” really means you are an excuser-- either of a deficient policy, a deficient president, or a deficit administration—most usually all three. In any case, the premise of the accusation is that you, the apologist, are either misguided, at best, or more likely willfully in denial of views that any reasonable person would hold. In short, you are either a fool or a shill.

The world looks more complicated to someone on the relieving end of that accusation. It is a world in which administration decisions reflect mixtures of motives and neither presidents nor policies are perfect. It is a world in which you agree with some presidential policies and not others. And it is a world where you might well find yourself in agreement with some, but not all, elements of the same policy.

Consider the case of immigration. Congress is now in the middle of long delayed and much needed debate about American immigration policy. It is finally doing so because present policy has become intolerable.

The focus of our current debate is illegal immigration. The United States has become the home of somewhere between 8 and 12 million illegal immigrations with more arriving at the rate of over 500, 000 every year. Successive administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have basically ignored the problem, while public dismay at the government’s inability or unwillingness to control our borders has grown and become clearly evident in just about every public opinion poll that asks a question about it.

The focus on illegal immigration does not mean that the rest of American immigration policy is either coherent or functional. The hidden core of American immigration policy is how well we integrate immigrants into our national community, and unlike the past when government, business and community groups joined forces to help immigrations become Americans, we now do little or nothing to help facilitate this core civic responsibility. So, the first problem for a “Bush apologist” with interests in the viability of American nation identity is that the current immigration debate almost wholly ignores a question of vital consequence to this country.

Still, illegal immigration is a very serious problem. A country that is targeted by terrorists who would like to destroy it that looses control of its borders is in serious trouble. A country that welcomes people that violate its immigrations laws with numerous incentives (financial, heath and education benefits to name a few), while its president declares at an immigration ceremony that we are nation of laws, sends seriously mixed signals. So what is a “Bush apologist” to do?

The wish to make a better life is understandable, and in this the president’s empathy is well placed. On the other hand, the president’s chief responsibility is to this county’s citizens, and illegal immigration is not a victimless crime. It is leads to a sense of pervasive unwanted, and uninvited violation of national and civic boundaries. It spawns crime, corruption, and political malfeasance. Mayors make their cities “sanctuary” havens where immigration law is not enforced. Legislatures debate in-state tuition levels for illegal immigrants and pass resolutions supporting boycotts meant to pressure Congress for more liberal legalization policies, while laws requiring employers to verify the immigration status of those they hire are not enforced and as written, are unenforceable,

And what does the president propose to do about this? He wants to match a willing worker with employers having trouble “filling jobs that Americans won’t do.” And he wants to create a pathway for illegal immigrants toward “earned legalization.”

The problem for a Bush apologist with the first proposal is that it seems to be premised on a repeal of the laws of supply and demand. The larger the pool of low skill, low education illegal immigrants willing to work at sub-subsistence wages, the more likely it is that wages will not rise to make the jobs attractive to Americans who want to do them. Less supply of cheap labor coupled with continuing demand (we need workers) should lead to a rise in the wages offered and as well to the number of Americans who would consider these jobs.

The informed Bush apologist also knows that “earned legalization” is designed as a comforting euphemism to cover up an inconvenient fact. Illegal immigrants can, even now, “earn” their legalization by the simple expedient and leaving the county and applying for a green card like every other legal immigrant does. This of course is not going to happen and many of the current proposals before Congress are expressly designed to make sure that it doesn’t.

So when the president says that he is against “automatic citizenship,” a Bush apologist is still forced to ask: Who suggested that? When the president says he wants illegal immigrants to go “to the back of the line,” and then ads if Congress wants to shorten the line by increasing the number legal immigrants admitted to this country each year (850,000 plus) it can do so, even a Bush apologist realizes this is an invitation to an immigration green card bidding war. (Democrats: I’ll see your 200,000 new green cards, and raise you 200,000 more.) This of course assumes that whatever law is passed is not riddled with hidden loopholes that cripple enforcement mechanisms and ease citizenship requirements as the proposals that the Senate considered before its just completed recess were.

So what is a Bush apologist to do? Yes, the president is courageous for facing this problem directly, as he has done with social security reform and national security. Yes, if there is a true need to a more workers, let us design a program to accomplish that, but we should first test by enforcement, just how critical that need is.

Yes, the president is generally a compassionate man although that is not the only or the most central aspect of his psychology. Yes, illegal immigration is a human problem, but it is also a national, cultural and community problem. However, presidential compassion should not be extended solely to those who break our laws to have a better life. It should also be extended to the many citizens whose sense of violation and frustration because of dishonest euphuisms, failures of political will, and crass pandering for political advantage in the immigration debate are palpable.

Where does all this leave a “Bush apologist?” Why, against the president’s stated policy preferences on these matters of course.