Bush: Immigrants Are Human Beings

By ;Domenico Maceri

“We’re talking about human beings, decent human beings that need to be treated with respect,” stated President George Bush in a recent presentation on immigration in Orange County, California.

With approval ratings as low as 32%, Bush has clearly not gotten many things right. The Iraq war, the failed attempt to privatize social security, and the energy crisis probably explain his low standing with Americans.

On the issue of immigration, though, he’s always been a moderate force in spite of some “hard-line” actions. One of these has been putting the National Guard at the border. It was designed to appease the very conservative elements of the GOP who view him as being “soft” on immigration.

 Bush’s overall immigration plan has been adopted by other politicians. The closest translation has been crafted by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The proposal would strengthen border control but would also include a guest worker program, which would allow people to enter the U.S. legally if companies cannot find Americans to do certain jobs. The plan would also establish a path to citizenship for undocumented workers who have been in the U.S. for a number of years and have no criminal record. These individuals would have to pay fines and learn English to regularize their status.

Bush’s position is of course not popular with certain elements of the GOP and many Americans who see the issue in very simplistic terms of right and wrong. Undocumented workers committed  a crime and therefore need to be punished through deportation.

But as Bush has stated, deporting 12 million people is not realistic. Many of these people have established roots in the U.S. They have jobs, mortgages, and many also have kids who are American citizens. Some of these people have sons and daughters who are fighting in Iraq. Would you deport the parents? Do their US-born kids have the right to stay in the country?

Aside from the difficulty of removing unauthorized immigrants from the U.S., the fact is that we need workers to do certain tasks which the average American rejects.

Most undocumented immigrants do menial work and provide a source of cheap labor to America’s companies.

That means nothing to some Americans and a significant segment of the Republican Party. Undocumented workers committed a crime and need to be forced out of the country.

The animosity toward undocumented workers is, to a significant extent, no different from the negative feelings people had with immigrants of the past. Although past immigrants are now viewed as heroes, they were treated no differently than today’s undocumented immigrants in spite of the fact that they had legal papers.

Discrimination was very common. Every ethnic group can remember how their grandparents were treated badly. Signs of  “Help Wanted: No Irish Need Apply” are still vivid in some people’s mind. Discrimination against Asian and other European immigrants also used to occur in spite of the fact that people had legal papers.

Thus, the antagonism toward undocumented workers is not explained completely because of legality.

The fear generated by the tragic events of 9-11 certainly adds to the negative feelings against outsiders. Some people have a hard time distinguishing between terrorists and other individuals who come to the U.S. to improve their livelihood.

Fortunately, a majority of Americans see the difference. Bush’s broad plan and the thrust of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s proposed law are supported by 66% of Americans, according to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll.

 That augurs well for decent comprehensive legislation that keeps in mind the humanity of those who literally risk their lives to become part of the U.S.

A few generations in the future, the grandkids of today’s undocumented immigrants will look back and see the heroism of their ancestors as we now see it in the immigrants of our past.

Domenico Maceri

(dmaceri@gmail.com), PhD, UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA.