- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

George W. Bush finally weighed in on the great immigration debate yesterday, singing the song beloved by Corporate Republicans: “Give us your tired, your poor/ Your unemployed masses yearning to breeze in free/ The wretched refuse of the steaming poor/ Send these, the readily abused/ Greedy employers wait at the golden door.”

The president didn’t put it in those words, exactly; language and rhetoric are not his cup of latte. The sentiment was clear enough, with the anvil chorus sung with particular gusto: “Businesses have difficulty filling jobs Americans will not do.” He might have added, but didn’t, “at least not at the wages the employers at the golden door will pay.”

Congress came back to town yesterday, and the president is trying to revive prospects for the immigration-reform legislation that everyone agrees is overdue. How much of it will be reform, and how much will be merely “reform,” is the subject for the debate at hand. The smart money is on “reform.”

The president is eager to keep the high road off-limits to everyone but the senators of the Amnesty Caucus. “I know this is an emotional debate,” he told an organization of businessmen in Irvine, Calif., “but the one thing we cannot lose sight of is, we’re talking about human beings, decent human beings. Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic. It’s not going to work.”

No doubt all true, and no one of consequence has prescribed “massive deportation.” But suggesting that only his friends and allies have a noble regard for decent human beings is a tried-and-true debating tactic, first devised by the anonymous mayor who defended his budget against heartless aldermen with unanswerable logic: “OK, cut this budget if you insist, but if you do we’ll have to close the orphanage and put the little children out in the rain without any supper.”

The “guest-worker” program favored by the president and owners of shirt factories and chicken-plucking plants and other employers of low-wage illegals is called “guest worker” to avoid calling it “amnesty,” and was devised not by the Senate, but by Rube Goldberg Associates. Rube would divide the illegals into those who have been here for two years, but not five years (or is it the other way around?), who would agree to fines they couldn’t possibly pay and learn fluent English, with “fluency” to be defined and measured by bureaucrats who can’t speak proper English themselves. Neither the president nor any senator has explained why an illegal immigrant would come forward to reveal himself as illegal, forced to take tests he might not pass and pay out money he doesn’t have when he could remain in the shadows undisturbed.

The illegals are illegal, but not dumb, and neither are the Mexican elites who dispatch them across the border. President Vicente Fox of Mexico calls the illegals “heroes,” and well he should, because they send home $20 billion a year. The number of Mexican-born in the U.S. population, believed to be 11 million now, is expected to double over the next quarter of a century. Mexico’s economy, culture and political system depend on exporting Mexicans. Nobody really knows how long, if the current rate of illegal immigration accelerates, before more Mexicans will live here than in Mexico. It’s merely a matter of time and arithmetic.

Mexican citizens are encouraged to believe that nobody north of the Rio Grande is serious about stemming the flow of immigrants. “There have been amnesties and reforms before,” the imaginatively named Jesus Cervantes, director of statistical analysis for Mexico’s Central Bank, said last week. “They will continue to occur periodically.”

Abelardo Gonzalez, an elementary-school teacher in a village in Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico, tells the Associated Press that “from the time they are little kids, [Mexicans] have this idea of going north.” So many Mexicans from the farming town of Atotonilco in central Mexico have gone north that a job-placement network has grown up in the town. Migrants who make it across the border send back word that a gardener is needed in a certain neighborhood in Los Angeles, a dishwasher in Raleigh, a carpenter in Houston, a chicken-plucker in Northwest Arkansas. Parents have begun giving their children American names, John instead of Jesus, Tiffany instead of Teresa.

They think they have Congress intimidated; the president on their side. Who can blame them?

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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