Much as he reached out last week to former secretaries of State and Defense on Iraq policy, President Bush should call in his radio talk-show supporters for a frank chat about immigration.
Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt and Laura Ingraham certainly aren’t as distinguished as ex-Secretaries James Baker, Madeleine Albright and Robert McNamara, but they are the ones fueling Republican uproar over illegal immigration.
Yet they support Bush ardently and they ought to be open to an argument from him — an argument that happens to be correct — that the only way the United States is truly going to solve the problem of illegal immigration is with a comprehensive plan, like his, that not only controls the borders but creates legal means for immigrants to work.
Bush also needs to make the argument to GOP House Members, who voted overwhelmingly last month for an enforcement-only bill that beefed up border security, made it a felony to be an illegal alien and authorized building a fence along some of the border with Mexico.
Bowing to pressure engendered by the talk-show claque, Bush tilted right himself, delivering a pair of speeches that emphasized stricter enforcement, but downplayed his traditional support for work permits and declaring opposition to “amnesty” for illegals.
House Members went home able to tell angry constituents that they’d cracked down on immigration, but the truth is they’ve done nothing. No bill has passed the Senate and what’s in the offing is a stalemate — unless Bush can rally his party to do something sensible.
If it’s not delayed by hearings on National Security Agency wiretaps on top of confirmation proceedings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito, the Senate Judiciary Committee is supposed to take up immigration reform this month.
Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has drafted a comprehensive bill that includes beefed-up border controls, stricter internal employment checks and a work permit system to allow new immigrants and illegals to have legal employment in the U.S. for up to six years.
It’s a far better approach than the House bill, but business and pro-immigrant groups are concerned that the bill will contain a provision sponsored by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) that would require workers to return to their home countries after their six-year work visas expire.
That would disrupt employment patterns and family life and discourage illegals from reporting for work permits in the first place.
A far better solution would be for the Senate to adopt “earned legalization” provisions of the bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), which would allow illegals and temporary workers to stay in the U.S. if they pay fines, back taxes, learn English and pass through a clearance procedure.