Last Sunday, on a trip to Sacramento, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice briefly praised the nation’s history of welcoming immigrants, saying that it’s a tradition that should be preserved:
“Our national myth is the log cabin. That you can come from humble circumstances and do great things. That’s what has brought immigrants to this country for years. We’ve got to keep welcoming these people.”
A few months ago, Rice expressed deep regret about not being able to pass comprehensive immigration reform while her boss, President George W. Bush, was in office:
“We need immigration reform. I don’t care if it’s for the person who crawls across the desert to earn $5 an hour, or for Sergey Brin, who came here from Russia and founded Google. As a country, we can’t have people living in the shadows. It’s just wrong. It’s not only ineffective, it’s wrong.”
Rice’s comments are a much-needed departure from the Bush administration’s generally unwelcoming immigration enforcement tactics that drove undocumented immigrants deeper underground and contributed to the current atmosphere of hate, hostility and ethnic intimidation towards immigrants, Latinos, and other foreign minorities living in the US. While the Bush administration did advocate for comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented population, it implemented oppressive immigration enforcement measures to win the public’s support for broader reform. And when the immigration reform bill failed in 2007, the administration’s brutal enforcement tactics continued. In fact, they escalated.
In late 2008, Peter Markowitz, professor of law at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York, explained:
“Something really shifted in the Bush Administration once it realized comprehensive immigration reform was not going to pass on its watch…When they saw the public policy battle was lost, they moved instead to public relations. The strategy now is to shore up the Republican base by demonstrating a big, flashy show of force.”
The Bush administration did a good job of riling up its right wing base, but it didn’t win itself any new votes. Instead, Bush left immigrants and Latinos with a situation in which hate crimes against them are increasing, racial profiling is soaring, and dehumanizing anti-immigrant rhetoric continues to dominate the airwaves. Bush may have won the hearts and minds of right-wingers, but Latino and immigrant voters overwhelmingly turned against the Republican party in the November 2008 elections. And while several members of the GOP are now trying to clean up their party’s rhetoric, ultimately its actions will speak louder than its words.