Tuesday, May 16, 2006

President Bush Addresses Immigration Reform

I was unable to watch President Bush's Address to the Nation on Immigration Reform live, but have just finished reading the transcript. My initial impression is that if the address was intended to quell the public outcry over border security and illegal immigration, it largely missed the mark.

For what it's worth, here's my analysis. Unless otherwise noted, all emphasis is mine:

Once here, illegal immigrants live in the shadows of our society. Many use forged documents to get jobs, and that makes it difficult for employers to verify that the workers they hire are legal. Illegal immigration puts pressure on public schools and hospitals, it strains state and local budgets, and brings crime to our communities. These are real problems. Yet we must remember that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are decent people who work hard, support their families, practice their faith, and lead responsible lives. They are a part of American life, but they are beyond the reach and protection of American law.

When I hear a statement such as this, I can't help but think that most Muslims who are illegally in America are hard working, law abiding citizens but it only took 19 who weren't to make September 11 not just another day on the calendar, but a day that will always be remembered as one of the darkest days in our country's history. It doesn't really matter what most of them do, it only matters what some are capable of doing.

We're a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws. We're also a nation of immigrants, and we must uphold that tradition, which has strengthened our country in so many ways. These are not contradictory goals. America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time. We will fix the problems created by illegal immigration, and we will deliver a system that is secure, orderly, and fair. So I support comprehensive immigration reform that will accomplish five clear objectives.

It is true we are a nation of immigrants- legal immigrants. We should reward those who legally follow the process to become American citizens, but we should also take drastic steps to rid ourselves of those who don't respect the process. Anything less is disrespectful to our nation and also to those who love America enough to do it the right way. We don't just need to fix the problems created by illegal immigration, we need to make a concerted effort to stamp it out altogether.

First, the United States must secure its borders. This is a basic responsibility of a sovereign nation. It is also an urgent requirement of our national security. Our objective is straightforward: The border should be open to trade and lawful immigration, and shut to illegal immigrants, as well as criminals, drug dealers, and terrorists.

The American people have known this for decades, please tell me the Federal Government is not just now figuring this out.

Tonight I'm calling on Congress to provide funding for dramatic improvements in manpower and technology at the border. By the end of 2008, we'll increase the number of Border Patrol officers by an additional 6,000. When these new agents are deployed, we'll have more than doubled the size of the Border Patrol during my presidency.

At the same time, we're launching the most technologically advanced border security initiative in American history. We will construct high-tech fences in urban corridors, and build new patrol roads and barriers in rural areas. We'll employ motion sensors, infrared cameras, and unmanned aerial vehicles to prevent illegal crossings. America has the best technology in the world, and we will ensure that the Border Patrol has the technology they need to do their job and secure our border.

This is the bright spot of the entire speech in my opinion, but will only remain so if it actually gets done and is utilized effectively. If past history is an accurate predictor of future events, then I'm not entirely optimistic. We'll see.

Training thousands of new Border Patrol agents and bringing the most advanced technology to the border will take time. Yet the need to secure our border is urgent. So I'm announcing several immediate steps to strengthen border enforcement during this period of transition:

One way to help during this transition is to use the National Guard. So, in coordination with governors, up to 6,000 Guard members will be deployed to our southern border. The Border Patrol will remain in the lead. The Guard will assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems, analyzing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle barriers, building patrol roads, and providing training. Guard units will not be involved in direct law enforcement activities -- that duty will be done by the Border Patrol. This initial commitment of Guard members would last for a period of one year. After that, the number of Guard forces will be reduced as new Border Patrol agents and new technologies come online. It is important for Americans to know that we have enough Guard forces to win the war on terror, to respond to natural disasters, and to help secure our border.

The United States is not going to militarize the southern border.

I'm not entirely sure that this makes any sense. Positioning National Guard units along the border with no real authority to enforce the law sounds like a waste of resources to me. We shouldn't have troops constucting the barriers, they should be locked and loaded in defense of them. The only way to send a clear message is to militarize the border. This sounds like an attempt to appease Vicente Fox and I couldn't care less what he thinks.

For many years, the government did not have enough space in our detention facilities to hold them [illegal immigrants] while the legal process unfolded. So most were released back into our society and asked to return for a court date. When the date arrived, the vast majority did not show up. This practice, called "catch and release," is unacceptable, and we will end it.

I certainly hope so!

I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, to pay their taxes, to learn English, and to work in a job for a number of years. People who meet these conditions should be able to apply for citizenship, but approval would not be automatic, and they will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law. What I've just described is not amnesty, it is a way for those who have broken the law to pay their debt to society, and demonstrate the character that makes a good citizen.

I respectfully disagree, Mr. President. It is amnesty because they are not being deported for breaking the law. They are being given a second chance to become a good citizen when their first act upon entering America was to break its laws.

Send them back to their country of origin and make them go through the "process" and reenter the country legally if they want to become a citizen. This is the only true way to separate the wheat from the chaff. If they are truly honest, they will do it the right way, but that requires that they start over from their home country, not from their desired destination.

Now, I have no doubt in my mind that the President is absolutely sincere about everything he has proposed this evening and I am not questionining his character in any way by offering my disagreement. I am, however, questioning his judgement on this particular issue.

The American people have spoken and have said in a loud and unified voice that our borders must be secured and illegal immigration must be stopped. They are demanding real action and real solutions to these problems, not middle of the road policies that do nothing to permanently solve the problem.

Our survival as a sovereign nation depends on it!

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