Immigration Politics: There’s More to Security Than Border Control

Less than half way through their sophomore term, Bush administration officials must be noticing their shadows growing long. Swamped in controversy, they lack the luxury of anticipating a time when, in the coming weeks and months, the dust will settle on the Miers withdrawal and the Libby indictment. After those stories are forgotten, there lurks a political force which has proven lethal to more presidencies than the Senate and the CIA combined. It is not avian flu, but the fowl, foul scourge of LDS which awaits the current tenants of 1600 Penn Ave. All of the top minds in Washington will tell you that there is no cure for Lame Duck Syndrome and that early treatment is the key.

That is precisely why President Bush, media savvy since day one, raised or at least tried to raise the issue of immigration reform before the Miers and Plame stories reached critical mass.

Devoting a weekly radio address to the topic, Bush outlined a two pronged approach, both tightening border security and creating a guest-work program. Such a program would allow employers to continue hiring foreign nationals for low wage jobs, difficult to fill from within the domestic labor market, without having to make promises to these workers about future naturalization or other benefits. The call for stricter border enforcement was echoed in Congress, especially among conservatives, grateful to be in agreement with the President and to be talking tough on an issue with obvious national security ramifications. The guest-work program encountered more hostility, with democrats and some republicans calling for a more liberal immigration process. Unfortunately, what was lost on both sides of the aisle was that the guest-worker component of the various proposals had equal if not greater long term national security significance than the problem of the porous Mexican border.

Many of the nations in western Europe established guest-worker programs to fuel their growing economies during the sixties and seventies. In doing so, they created large, disenfranchised, economically underserved populations within their borders. Many within these communities were Muslims. Moreover, many of the suspects in the bombings in Madrid and London and the assassination of film director Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands were native English, Spanish and Dutch Muslims who had been exposed to, if not members of, these often ignored populations. It should be noted, in contrast that none of the nineteen suspected September 11th hijackers were Muslim Americans. It is also true that the United States has a significantly smaller Muslim population making up only 1% of the overall population, whereas the United Kingdom is 2.7% Islamic, the Netherlands is 5.5% and Spain 6% everything other than Roman Catholic, with many Muslims reflected in that figure. However, the observation that the current Muslim American population is small and in fact fairly prosperous, hardly seems like a justification for following in Europe’s path, but rather a reason to deeply desire that all new immigrants have an experience more like that of Muslims in the United States than of those in Western Europe.

Our safety depends not on systematically excluding individuals of a particular faith or nationality from immigrating to the U.S. The xenophobic, right-reactionist movements of Europe have drawn the wrong conclusion when confronted with growing Muslim minorities. What we must recognize instead is that one cannot create a socialist paradise by excluding from one’s vision the very individuals whose economic contributions drive the prosperity that makes the realization of those ideals possible. Attempting to do so may not necessarily be a recipe for terrorism, but it is unlikely that the other possible outcomes are much more appealing. Instead of terrorism, the result of trying to create social equality out of legal disparity, could be higher crime, civil unrest or simply a tarnishing of America’s image as a land of opportunity in the eyes of the world.
Granting citizenship to the individuals who leave behind their homes to fill the needs of the American job market should be a top priority for many reasons. To cover all of those reason would take volumes, but here is the single sentence case for one. Ensuring that newcomers feel justly compensated, both political and economically for their efforts, will facilitate the assimilation process for them and for their children. After all, that is what they come here looking for.

Many officials as various levels of government have gone out of their way to remind the American public that the present conflict is not a war on Islam or any other demographic group, rather an effort to bring hope to victimized, forlorn people around the world. We should make sure to do the same at home by giving the people who come to this country today the same privilege that previous waves of immigrants have had, a stake in the future of their chosen nation. A look abroad suggests that we will be stronger and safer for having done so. Besides, Bush should really empathize. He knows better than most that every four or eight years, the lame duck becomes a migrating bird.

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