Monday, May 15, 2006

Bush walks a tightrope in immigration reform speech.

With less than six month to go before the midterm elections, and Republicans fearing catastrophic losses, President Bush tonight took to the airwaves to try to throw some water on the rapidly growing brushfire of immigration reform that threatens to destroy his party. With poll numbers below 30%, a near mutiny brewing from House Republicans, and a loss of support amongst his conservative base, Bush attempted a political high wire act that would have tested even the most skilled political acrobat. For the feeble footed Boy King, it was nothing more than an exercise in futility.

Bush's juggling act began with an attempt to throw a bone to the hard line "enforcement only" House Republicans.

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By the end of 2008, we will increase the number of Border Patrol officers by an additional 6,000.

We will construct high-tech fences in urban corridors, and build new patrol roads and barriers in rural areas.

We will employ motion sensors infrared cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles to prevent illegal crossings.

So in coordination with governors, up to 6,000 Guard members will be deployed to our southern border. The Border Patrol will remain in the lead. The Guard will assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems analyzing intelligence installing fences and vehicle barriers building patrol roads and providing training. Guard units will not be involved in direct law enforcement activities that duty will be done by the Border Patrol. This initial commitment of Guard members would last for a period of one year

So we will increase federal funding for state and local authorities assisting the Border Patrol on targeted enforcement missions. And we will give state and local authorities the specialized training they need to help federal officers apprehend and detain illegal immigrants.

We have expanded the number of beds in our detention facilities, and we will continue to add more. We have expedited the legal process to cut the average deportation time. And we are making it clear to foreign governments that they must accept back their citizens who violate our immigration laws. As a result of these actions, we have ended "catch and release" for illegal immigrants from some countries. And I will ask Congress for additional funding and legal authority, so we can end "catch and release" at the southern border once and for all.


Bush's tough talking cowboy persona has lost its luster over the past five years, and those from his party who are seeking an airtight border, will find these proposals sorely lacking any real punch. In fact aside from the use of the Guard, most of Bush's "new" proposals have already been outlined in the Senate legislation (albeit not quite as harshly.) That legislation has already been flatly rejected by the Tancredo and Sensenbrenner wing of the party. While they will welcome any increase in "border security" Bush's proposal falls far short of what they consider even the bear minimum of security; the building of a wall along the southern border and the criminalization of all undocumented immigrants in the country.

Since no Bush immigration speech would be complete without the obligatory "guest worker" Braceros program pitch, the Boy King then moved on to his second point. With polls showing a lack of public support for this program from both the right and the left, it is an essential element of any comprehensive plan that would get support from big business. With Senate Majority Leader Frist walking a precarious line to hold together the current Senate coalition in favor of reform, the loss of support from the business wing of his party would cause any compromise to fall apart. It has also been the cornerstone of Bush's plan for the last two years.

Second, to secure our border, we must create a temporary worker program

This program would match willing foreign workers with willing American employers for jobs Americans are not doing. Every worker who applies for the program would be required to pass criminal background checks. And temporary workers must return to their home country at the conclusion of their stay.


In an attempt to appease the growing anti-business, quasi-populist rhetoric that has been entering the debate, as typified by the Lou Dobbs "Broken Borders" shtick, Bush then went on to explain how he would get tough on those who employ undocumented immigrants.

Third, we need to hold employers to account for the workers they hire. …Yet businesses often cannot verify the legal status of their employees, because of the widespread problem of document fraud….A key part of that system should be a new identification card for every legal foreign worker. This card should use biometric technology, such as digital fingerprints, to make it tamper-proof


Ok, so he wasn't so much, "getting tough" as he was being an apologist for his donor class. I guess he feels that with his numbers in the toilet, the last thing he needs to do is alienate the last vestiges of support he has amongst business. So instead of any meaningful workplace enforcement, he'll request for a new identification system. I guess he feels that since Chertoff, the DHS and ICE have been so successful thus far in formulating a system for documenting immigrants, giving them even more responsibility is the best way to ensure employers adhere to immigration regulations and restrictions.

Lastly the Boy King attempted to explain to the rabid right wing just why his proposal to deal with the 12 million undocumented immigrants already living and working in the US is not really an "amnesty" program. Apparently unaware of the fact that the House Republican anti-immigrant advocates have repeatedly said that ANY plan that would allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the country would be considered an "amnesty". To them it matters not whether fines are paid, taxes collected, or English learned. They don't want to hear about workers lost or families destroyed … they want the immigrants gone. That's the bottom line. Bush apparently having not read a newspaper, or watched the news in the past year was unaware of this fact and went to great lengths to disassociate his plan (which seems to be no different than the Hagel - Martinez compromise) from any form "amnesty" which he claim he opposed. "Amnesty would be unfair to those who are here lawfully, and it would invite further waves of illegal immigration."

Bush, if his spin is to be believed, has always been a man of strong convictions who never waivers for political expediency, yet tonight he wavered and vacillated, trying to be all things to all people. In the end he fell flat on all accounts. He neither appeased the rapid right wing, nor stood on principle and demanded a fair and humane immigration policy.

In a moment of irony apparently lost on the President's speech writers he warned against exploiting fear for political gain.

"We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone's fears, or exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain. We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say."

With these words the Boy King summed up his seventeen minute high wire act.

Complete transcript of Bush speech


elRanchero said...

Joining the Tancredo and Sensenbrenner wing of Bush's party in rejecting this grand scheme is local law enforcement agencies and elected officials.

Maybe he really doesn't read the newspaper?

"So we will increase federal funding for state and local authorities assisting the Border Patrol on targeted enforcement missions. And we will give state and local authorities the specialized training they need to help federal officers apprehend and detain illegal immigrants."

I think he is referring to either Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) or its potential expansion with the CLEAR Act. Section 287(g) provides the legal authority for state and local enforcement (police and detention officials) to investigate, detain, and arrest undocumented immigrants on civil and crimi­nal grounds. In short, cops and prison guards are trained and do double duty as the migra and their normal job.

The April 20th DHS announcement of a "new interior enforcement strategy" after the nationwide IFCO raids also talked about expanding Section 287(g).

Problem is for Bush is that something like only 10 agencies have signed up for this extra work and dozens of agencies across the country have said no to the expansion of 287(g) through the Clear Act.

Two weeks ago Southern Arizona law enforcement and elected officials walked out of a meeting with State GOP leaders over the same issue.

But I'm sure his base will all support the national id card.

posted to shamelessly and unethically promote a new blog on this issue

XicanoPwr said...

I was very surprised he did mention the national id card since it already passed and made into law last year. Maybe it was a in your face thing, letting us know 1/3 of the whole immigration reform had already been passed. I know he was really trying hard to ride the fence.

Texan said...

Seems like Bush's speech offers nothing new. And calling up 6,000 National Guard soldiers to serve in a bench role, driving fuel trucks, building things, doing surveillance, and providing other "services" to assist the already inadequate border patrol is not something I would sign on to.

I read a lot of strongly pro-immigration posts on this blog that criticize any measures which might slow or hinder immigration or obstruct illegal migrants.

Should we open our borders to any and all comers? Should we abandon any attempts to limit the mass migration that is taking place without any semblance of control? Should we just maintain a blind eye to all of it? What is the point, what are the recommendations here?

Man Eegee said...

Speaking just for myself, I think this is all a bunch of window-dressing. Until the power brokers start addressing economic instability caused by NAFTA, CAFTA, and other trade policies, then none of this is going to do a inkling of good.

I reject the calls for a wall to be built, it is the ultimate sign of society's failure to wall their citizens in/keep others out due to fear and elitism. The flow will lessen when the American government stops treating the rest of the world like a bunch of unwanted stepchildren.

janinsanfran said...

Yeah -- nothing much in it. At most, a confession that Bush's prestige is on the line if Congress fails to bring anything out this year.

However there continues to be hope that Congress will simply be unable to get itself together to act, the best result for most of our immigrant population I think. Such a result would give organizations time to build better defensive capacity for the very many people whose lives are likely to be interrupted by any legislation.