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The way President Bush has been talking lately, one might almost mistake him for someone who comprehends the fundamental role open borders play in an open society. “Over the generations, we have received energetic, ambitious, optimistic people from every part of the world,” Bush said early last month. “Every generation of immigrants has reaffirmed the wisdom of remaining open to the talents and dreams of the world.”
It’s always a pleasant surprise to hear that kind of mainstream liberal rhetoric coming from a staunch conservative like Bush. But the taste of free opportunity soured somewhat as the president’s next words—outlining a vague but far-reaching plan for reforming federal immigration law—completely undermined the ideals to which he had paid half-hearted lip service.
On the surface, Bush’s proposal seems to offer the America’s constantly-growing population of illegal immigrants the fair shake they deserve by making eight million of them legal temporary workers. No more would these people—many of whom have held low-paying menial jobs for years—contribute to America’s service economy without reaping its benefits. Those who work in the United States should never have to avoid hospitals or jobs with reasonable safety controls for fear of being deported.
But there is fine print. If the president has his way, these new workers won’t just get temporary green cards—they’ll be enticed by personal retirement funds set up for them courtesy of Dubya’s Congress. The only catch? The funds wouldn’t be accessible until the workers left the United States. Just as he invites immigrants to join America’s legal workforce, Bush would introduce hamhanded bribes to push them back out again. What’s more, an illegal worker who volunteered to join the new program wouldn’t be guaranteed to get one of the eight million new green cards being offered, raising the distinctly underhanded prospect of immigrants being deported just for trying to become legal. And Bush’s offer of temporary worker status would come with an absolute expiration date—after just six years of making America work without violating its laws, the immigrants would be unable to renew their legal status.
Even if Bush’s plan came with no tricks or time limits, though, it wouldn’t be nearly enough. Instead of kicking these temporary workers out after six years, the United States should enact a complete amnesty for all illegal immigrants currently in the country. This should also be coupled with significant increases in the quotas that still stand on those seeking entry. America did not become great by locking its doors, and those after their own small slice of the lone global superpower’s fiscal pie should not be forced to sneak in by covert and often dangerous routes.
Our country’s centuries of progress and prosperity have been built on the backs of immigrants. Everyone—including President Bush these days—is quick to acknowledge the tremendous contribution of the millions who came through Ellis Island legally in the past. If Bush is serious about changing the profoundly unfair status quo, he owes it to the American people to scrap his torturous proposal and do something that will actually solve the problem.
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