EDITORIAL: Bush has some thoughtful words on immigration

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The Daily Star, Oneonta, N.Y.
·3 min read
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Apr. 23—A former president made the media rounds over the past week and broke the unwritten rule of former presidents not wading into politics by suggesting the Republican Party has grown too "isolationist, protectionist and, to a certain extent, nativist" in its attitude toward immigrants.

The fact that this former president, George W. Bush, is himself a Republican is newsworthy, even more so after four years of President Donald Trump, who made opposition to immigration the centerpiece of his platform. Bush told CBS News that in the immigration debate, he would like "to see a tone that is more respectful about the immigrant," another sharp contrast after a president who called immigrants drug-dealing rapists and compared them to vermin.

Like any of us, Bush has his flaws. It's still too early to determine his historical legacy, but after tenure highlighted by a messy invasion of Iraq and the 2008 economic meltdown, historians and polls of presidential rankings have not treated him kindly. But at least Bush listens when his conscience speaks, and right now it seems to be telling him that the path his party has taken since Donald Trump joined it in 2009 is not the right one.

"I think we go through these spasms in our country where there's a nativist sentiment where people don't focus on the positive aspects of immigration and that needs to change," Bush said to NPR. " ... A lot of people want to make sure we have border enforcement. But the truth of the matter is, by fixing the broken system, it does make it easier to enforce the border. And right now, the asylum system needs to be fixed."

Let's set the record straight about immigration's impact. Numerous studies have shown that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans. There is also no evidence that the immigrants themselves drive wages lower; any downward pressure on wages is purely a function of their illegal status as black-market laborers who can be taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers. A pathway to citizenship would be an easy, obvious solution to this problem.

Immigration has returned to the forefront under President Joe Biden as a record 19,000 unaccompanied minors showed up at the U.S.-Mexico border in March. Biden has vowed to undo the cruel and unreasonable policies of his predecessor, but a lasting solution would require the cooperation of Congress. Bush himself sought such a plan during his second term as president, but a comprehensive immigration bill that would have provided a pathway to citizenship was stalled in the Senate by his fellow Republicans.

Bush conceded this week that the failure was one of the biggest disappointments of his presidency. To his credit, Bush says he is lobbying members of his party to try to reach an agreement with Biden and the Democrats controlling Congress on a solution that would alleviate the humanitarian problem at the border while allowing immigrants to contribute to our economy.

Leadership means telling people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Contrast Bush's heartfelt words with those of Trump clingers-on behind the "We Build the Wall Fund," notably former Trump aide Steve Bannon. Bannon and three others were charged in August with embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars donated for the private construction Trump's cherished border wall, which the president never managed to get Congress on board with. During a live telethon for the project, Bannon even joked that alleged co-conspirator Brian Kolfage was embezzling the money. In January, Trump showed just how little he cares about his supporters getting ripped off by pardoning Bannon.

When listening to their party leaders debate immigration, Republican voters should ask themselves who is being honest, and who is merely trying to score political points. By going public with his thoughtful, heartfelt stance on the issue, Bush has planted his feet firmly in the first group.