During the 2000 campaign, Bush talked about the importance of the United States being regarded as a “welcoming country.” This message distances his administration and the Republican Party from the anti-immigration image of his Republican predecessors.
Bush’s advisers consider the president a “different kind of Republican.” Certainly while he was governor of Texas he surprised political observers by establishing strong ties with the Hispanic community and actually winning the majority of the Hispanic vote in his last gubernatorial election.
Bush accomplished this in a state where the fears fueled by the flood of illegal immigrants are immediately felt. For example, Bush understands firsthand the concerns that underlie the seventy percent of American who say annually they dislike the idea of increased immigration. Bush also knows the same 70 percent don’t vote on that issue. Pat Buchanan, a Catholic and a former Republican, emphasized his opposition to immigration in the 2000 presidential campaign and got nowhere.
The most controversial but most important policy being considered by the Bush administration is one granting temporary working status, or what is called an “amnesty” to illegal immigrants. If amnesty is granted, there will be complaints that the rule of law is not being upheld and those presently waiting for legal immigration in Mexico will be discouraged.
Granting the validity of these concerns, one can welcome Bush’s willingness to deal directly with a problem that will not go away simply by “upholding the rule of law” — the presence in the country of millions of Mexican workers who are not going home any time soon.
Regardless of the Bush administration offers, there must be a fundamental change in Mexico for any new policy to succeed. President Fox is promising to create areas of new economic development in Mexico, which will ease the flow of immigrants into the U.S. by providing more jobs. Fox has also promised to enforce existing immigration laws, beef up border safely, and cut down on illegal trafficking of workers.
Both Fox and Bush face an important challenge to their immigration agreement — how to dramatically lower the number of illegal immigrants once some sort of temporary amnesty has been granted. Bush himself must implement his Mexican immigration policy without alienating the other 2.5 million illegal immigrants that reside in the U.S. It is possible that Bush will make clear that the agreement with Mexico is a template for future negotiation with other countries.
It is very likely that Catholics across the political spectrum will applaud the Bush immigration policy. It may take some of the sting out of the recent decision on funding research on existing stem cell lines. The offering of amnesty to illegal Mexican immigrants is a substantative act of compassion and political generosity.