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George W. Bush Is Trying to Have It Both Ways on the Immigration Debate

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

In an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Friday, former President George W. Bush called for a “gradual” path to legal residency and eventual citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. The op-ed comes in advance of the release of the former president’s new book of portraits entitled, Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants.

“I hope that these faces, and the stories that accompany them, serve as a reminder that immigration isn’t just a part of our heritage,” Bush said of his book. “New Americans are just as much a force for good now, with their energy, idealism and love of country, as they have always been.”

From there, he previewed the stories of some of the immigrants profiled in his book, which undeniably serve as inspiring tales of how immigrants have found opportunities in the United States that they couldn’t have gotten elsewhere.

“The help and respect historically accorded to new arrivals is one reason so many people still aspire and wait to become Americans,” Bush noted, before lamenting the current state of the debate over immigration in the United States. “So how is it that in a country more generous to new arrivals than any other, immigration policy is the source of so much rancor and ill will? The short answer is that the issue has been exploited in ways that do little credit to either party. And no proposal on immigration will have credibility without confidence that our laws are carried out consistently and in good faith.”

In a general sense, it’s hard to disagree with Bush here. America is the land of opportunity, and that’s why so many people come here. But we are also a nation of laws, and it’s hard to agree with Bush when he argues that DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is the place to start. President Donald Trump revoked DACA via executive order. It was the right thing to do. DACA was implemented via executive action by Barack Obama, who deliberately bypassed Congress, which had failed to pass the DREAM Act. In revoking DACA, President Trump called on Congress to come up with compromise legislation on how to handle the children of illegal immigrants, and Democrats refused to negotiate. Eventually, an activist judge restored DACA, but the debate still rages on. By advocating for DACA, not the DREAM Act, Bush endorsed the idea that executive action on immigration, which is unconstitutional, is appropriate.

But, from there, Bush’s message got more confusing. “We need a secure and efficient border, and we should apply all the necessary resources — manpower, physical barriers, advanced technology, streamlined and efficient ports of entry, and a robust legal immigration system — to assure it.”

Great. I’m on board with that. But from there, he argued that “we cannot rely on enforcement alone to prevent the untenable and so often heartbreaking scenes that come with large-scale migration.” Except if there’s anything we saw during the Trump years, it’s that strict enforcement of our immigration laws meant fewer border crossing attempts. Trump proved that strict enforcement works.

I have long believed that the United States ought to make legal immigration easier, and Bush argued for this as well. But Bush took it a step further and argued that illegal immigrants “should be brought out of the shadows through a gradual process in which legal residency and citizenship must be earned, as for anyone else applying for the privilege.”

These people broke the law. While what Bush suggested is not the same as blanket amnesty, by opening up the possibility of legal residency and citizenship to those here illegally, he reinforced the incentive for illegally crossing the border. The fact remains that any changes to our immigration system require an act of Congress, and by advocating for DACA, Bush effectively endorsed executive action as a workaround.

In the end, Trump’s approach to immigration has proven to be the best option. He called for a border wall with “a big, very beautiful door” that would keep people from coming in illegally, while still giving them the opportunity to come legally.