- - Monday, April 15, 2013


By Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick
Threshold, $27, 304 pages

Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick’s “Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution” is a must-read for every citizen, wannabe citizen, legal working resident and those illegally working in the shadows of our economy. Their drumbeat title certainly captures the heated nature of our political discourse on immigration. American voters are given the choice between competing, partisan polemics, which, since we are talking about foreign things, comes from the Greek polemikos, warlike speech. It’s not the tone befitting citizens addressing would-be citizens.

But that’s how we talk to each other about every issue. We are a two-party “We the People” at war with ourselves. The same friend-enemy distinction that can be found in our conversations on immigration also exists in health care, entitlement reform, education, energy and the environment. We live in red and blue states, belong to red and blue parties that are sustained by red and blue news outlets. In a polity characterized by polemics, the art of politics the principled compromise is publicly reviled as cowardice.

Under these rules of engagement, the blues the Democrats will invariably win. “Immigration Wars” understands this slow-moving demographic fact from intuition to policy to public opinion. A Frenchmen who visited America in the 1850s with no intention to overstay his travel visa, Alexis de Tocqueville, captured the DNA of American exceptionalism in a simple, yet profound sentence that both parties should take to heart but Republicans more so: “The nature of Democracy is Equality; its Art is liberty.” Returning to the subject at hand, Mr. Bush and Mr. Bolick are liberty’s artists on immigration and other issues. The red camp must acknowledge this if they value self-preservation.

How do Mr. Bush and Mr. Bolick propose to settle the immigration war? They make principled compromises, which is not to compromise one’s principles, but to give them their democratic due. Their parameters: “We believe comprehensive reform should be constructed upon two core, essential values: first that immigration is essential to our nation, and second, that immigration policy must be governed by the rule of law.”

To satisfy those on the right unwilling to grant a pathway to citizenship for those who entered our country illegally, they propose legal residency as a principled settlement. Break the law, and you can’t become a citizen. But you can come out of the shadows, pay a fine, start paying taxes and pursue a less-than-full but still pretty good version of the American Dream.

“A grant of citizenship is an undeserving reward for conduct that we can’t afford to encourage.” Is this what Mr. Bush thinks ought to be required? No, so his critics cried that he was an opportunistic backpedaler. Such bickering is evidence of a sick political culture, in which the prescription for what ails us is confused with the disease. Mr. Bush is a more generous or compassionate conservative than what he offers as the mandatory minimum. That’s not the point of this book, though. Rather, it’s about reaching a compromise that can win majority support in an otherwise hopelessly divided body politic.

For the left, there is the Dream Act, which does not punish the non-natural-born children of illegal immigrants. While their parents can’t become citizens, these children many of whom only speak English and have no memories outside of the United States are given a pathway.

Comprehensive reform is not only about bringing folks in from the shadows, but changing the composition of those who are waiting in line legally. One of the most interesting and controversial parts of the book is its treatment of family unification, the major driver of legal immigration. What usually happens is that those who attain legal citizenship use their status to bring in their extended family. The authors don’t want to close down this avenue to the American Dream, but they do want to limit it significantly, so as to make room for more pro-growth legal immigration. In short, yes to a spouse and children, but no to your abuelitos and cousins.

Truth be told and the authors don’t shy from telling the truth importing aged parents is a serious strain on our frayed entitlement system. Better to send remittances and visit than to bring them here, where they will automatically receive Medicare and Medicaid. Extending more H-1B visas to those with high-level skills at the top of our economy and “red cards” for those working in our hospitality, food service, agricultural and construction sectors at the bottom is good economics, which should be lodestar of immigration policy. Citing research from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, of those who founded new firms, the lifeblood of growth and jobs, “More than half were created by foreigners who came to the United States to study, and 40 percent were started by immigrants who came here to work.” Those who are building a better America deserve a place in line.

Conspiracy theorists don’t believe in fortuitous accidents, but I do. Within a month of the publication of “Immigration Wars,” the Republican Party publicly issued a critical self-examination of where it is trending “Is Conservatism Dead?” as Sam Tannenhaus argued in 2008, or just slowly dying? and what to do about it. Part of the proposal was comprehensive immigration reform. Those who see this as collusion between RINO insiders against virtuous conservative outsiders need to get a grip. The Buckley principle of standing up before history and shouting “stop” also applies to a conservatism that aims to remain relevant.

The basic themes of “Immigration Wars” and the report are rather similar: Republicans need to stop playing the role of sheriff of Nottingham to the Democratic Party’s Robin Hood. Remember that Robin Hood took back the “legal plunder” of an unjust, crony mercantilist regime and empowered the people. Republicans are not required to always play the role of cold-hearted villain. “Immigration Wars” provides conservatives with a better role and, perhaps, a better future. “Indeed, embracing the aspirational ideals of immigrants could help bring about a needed resurgence of American exceptionalism.”

David DesRosiers is president of Revere Advisors.

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