Immigrants make U.S. better place

Editorial

Immigration won’t destroy America — rather, it built America and made it great.

No one knows that truth better than George W. Bush, whose international vision was clear back when he was Texas governor and wasn’t shackled by conservatives at the national level.

So it might seem that in signing the bill earlier this month authorizing a fence between the United States and Mexico that President Bush betrayed his own beliefs, or at least his own family — brother Jeb’s wife is from Guanajuato, Mexico, and the two met while Jeb lived in Mexico as a foreign-exchange teacher.

W. consistently advocated better relations with Mexico as governor, and admits the 9/11 attacks interrupted that advocacy. Worse, the attacks enabled a group of America-first zealots to gain power in Washington and across the country. They’ve managed to turn anger at the attacks by religious extremists into a coordinated effort to block Mexican immigration.

Even intelligent and otherwise reasonable lawmakers deemed it necessary to mollify these xenophobes, and the border control bill became a compromise that some say gave the radicals the appearance of a victory while achieving a much less sinister outcome.

On the most closely watched points, the new law seems closer to the House version that drew protest from clear-minded Americans everywhere. Some of the worst provisions included outlawing any assistance given to a person who did not have proof of legal entry into this country. Finding an injured person lying on the road and taking that person to a hospital could result in felony charges under that provision.

The Senate passed a more benign bill, offering a chance for many current undocumented U.S. residents to eventually achieve legal status. The compromise bill appears, on the surface, to favor the House version.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn was quick to note, however, that while Congress approved 700 miles of fencing along the Mexican border, the $1.2 billion allocated for its construction won’t fund the full project. Cornyn promises the entire fence probably will never be funded.

In exchange for the bill’s passage, however, the Senators reportedly got their House counterparts to drop other provisions, including one that would have called for local policing agencies to enforce immigration laws, something police chiefs and sheriffs say they don’t have the resources to do.

But why show support for the wall, if people are so sure it never will be completely built? The only answer can be politics, and Republicans’ fear that losing the xenophobe vote would cost them more than losing support from GOP moderates.

Will the strategy work? It remains to be seen.

One thing can be safely assumed: The very thing that placates the nativists could well hurt America in the court of global opinion.
Rational observers know that the fence has nothing to do with stopping terrorists, regardless of what some of the bill’s promoters say. If Mexico had been completely walled off from the United States in 2001, the attacks would still have occurred. No known political terrorist has been known to enter this country from Mexico. Most of the 9/11 hijackers got here with legal visas.

Walling off Mexico won’t deter those terrorists one bit. Even if they had thought of entering through Mexico, they can simply change plans and fly instead to Canada, the Caribbean or simply take their chances on simply flying directly into the United States.

The new law might not have some of the harsher measures that concerned many Americans, but it’s obvious that President Bush, like congressional leaders, know that appearances matter. The next question, which will linger long after the November elections, is whether any benefits from placating the far right will offset the negative appearances the bill casts far beyond our borders.