"America needs to conduct this debate on immigration in a reasoned and respectful tone. Feelings run deep on this issue — and as we work it out, all of us need to keep some things in mind. 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."
These are the words of our president. No, not our Socialist, Kenyan, Hitleresque, Death Panel-Loving, Economy-Destroying, Racist (OK, I've run out of dumb descriptions here – throw in one of your own) president who is currently residing in the White House.
The above quote is from President George W. Bush. He shared this message with the nation during a prime time television address in May 2006.
In this speech, Bush tried to mix a bit of law and order and compassion in the hopes of actually accomplishing some sort of comprehensive immigration reform.
"The United States must secure its borders," he said, and he laid out several steps for accomplishing the goal. He called for boosting the number of Border Patrol officers by 6,000 by the end of 2008. He also said he would ask Congress for the funding to create "the most technologically advanced border-security initiative in American history." Specifically, he said the government would use motion sensors, infrared cameras, and unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol for illegal immigrants.
But Bush didn't stop at just getting tough with immigrants. He called for a temporary-worker program, so that people from abroad would be able to come to the U.S. to work for a defined period of time. Businesses that wanted to hire such workers would have to show that their positions could not be filled by U.S. citizens.
He also wants to create a program under which illegal immigrants could become citizens. In the last decade, this concept has proven to be one of the most contentious in the entire immigration debate. Activists against illegal immigration say that such people should not be rewarded with citizenship for breaking U.S. laws. Bush took care to say what he was proposing was not "amnesty." He said illegal immigrants who want to become citizens would have to pay back taxes, learn English, and work steadily for several years.
Sadly, as we all know too well today, Bush's attempts to have Congress take some meaningful steps toward solving the vexing dilemma of immigration didn't get anywhere, mainly because Republicans split on the issue.
And so we're left with a draconian, "show me your papers" proposal that soon will become law in Arizona.
The law, which proponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in generations, would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Opponents have called it an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, whose signed the bill in April, sided with arguments by the law's sponsors that it provides an indispensable tool for the police in a border state that is a leading magnet of illegal immigration. She said racial profiling would not be tolerated.
What she failed to mention is that the Arizona law really doesn't provide a solution to the problem it is intended to solve.
Bad times produce bad laws. The problem is not the premise of the law, but the desperation that has state officials and decent citizens searching for equally desperate solutions.
The federal government is supposed to secure the border. Its failure to do so effectively not only invites measures like Arizona's, but complicates — if not dooms — the prospect of immigration reform at the national level.
The Arizona law has inspired plenty of protests. And it has a good share of supporters, too. Throw in the federal government's plan to take court action to attempt to kill Arizona's measure, and you can easily sense a schism in this country, of people finger-pointing and accusing and arguing and really not accomplishing anything.
Rather than condemning each other, we need to find ways to secure the border that are consistent with the values and security that immigrants, including your ancestors and mine, came to find when they arrived in this country.
We need to be more like Bush. In his attempt to address our nation's immigration problem, he struck the sort of stance that many people expected when he first became president. He was measured and diplomatic, striving to find the common ground between fierce opponents.
Read his words once more: "America needs to conduct this debate on immigration in a reasoned and respectful tone," he said. "Feelings run deep on this issue and as we work it out, all of us need to keep some things in mind. 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."
It's unfortunate that so many in our nation have forgotten perhaps one of the most meaningful things uttered by Bush during his presidency.