Today, President George W. Bush appeared on Rush Limbaugh’s show to promote his new book. For the most part, the interview was, as Steve Kornacki of Salon describes, “marked by excessive flattery and deference and a complete lack of follow-up questions.” Yet, Limbaugh did seek some answers on Bush’s immigration position — a topic which they probably don’t agree on. When Limbaugh first asked Bush what he thought about Arizona’s immigration law, Bush complained, “Now, you see, you’re trying to get me to make news. I don’t want to make news. I want to sell books, of course.” Eventually Bush simply implied that the whole Arizona immigration debacle could’ve been avoided if his immigration plan had passed:
BUSH: I think the federal government ought to have a comprehensive immigration law and the fact there isn’t one caused Arizona to react. And as you know, I laid out a comprehensive plan that I believed would work when I was president. I still believe it will work, and in the book I talk about that decision to try to get legislation passed.
RUSH: What was the objective of that legislation? What were you trying to accomplish with your comprehensive immigration reform because many people thought it was amnesty and that he they opposed it.
BUSH: No, I know, and that’s what happens a lot of times these issues get labeled and people react poorly. I couldn’t have said it more plainly: I was against amnesty. I don’t know many people who were for amnesty when it comes time for comprehensive reform. I’m sure there’s some, but, you know, all that would do if you granted amnesty is encourage the next wave to come.
I was trying to basically recognize that our economy required immigrants to work. I mean, there’s a lot of jobs Americans won’t do and therefore there needed to be an orderly, legal way for people to come and work on a temporary basis and that if you’d paid your taxes and had been here for a while and were a good citizen you had a chance to become a citizen, but you had to get at the back of the line. It was a plan that I felt addressed the issue in a good way. There is no plan — obviously there’s no plan, a comprehensive plan — yet, and therefore states like Arizona are reacting.
Though Bush’s plan was the closest that Congress has come to passing comprehensive immigration reform in a long time, it probably wouldn’t have fixed the nation’s broken immigration system and prevented SB-1070. To begin with, under Bush’s immigration bill undocumented immigrants would’ve had to leave their jobs and families and return to their home countries for a period of time just to regularize their status. The “touchback” requirement would’ve probably lead to millions of undocumented immigrants staying underground.
One of the most troubling aspects of Bush’s legislation was the “point system” which would’ve sorted out lower-skilled immigrants from high-skilled ones and prioritized the latter in the allocation of visas with little to no regard for economic demand for workers or family reunification. The provision represented a “radical shift in the philosophy of the U.S. immigration system” and would’ve fundamentally changed the demographics of U.S. immigration. Then Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) called it a “radical experiment in social engineering.”
Finally, the bill included a controversial temporary worker program which was opposed by many Democrats who thought it amounted to “indentured servitude.” Most labor unions agreed.
In his interview, Bush also reminded Limbaugh that “not all Democrats were for it on Capitol Hill.” Bush is right. At the time, the Democratic Strategist wrote, “Democrats are restless about the implications of voting for an increasingly bad bill ‘to keep the process going,’ counting on the House to pass something more acceptable.” Overall, Bush’s bill was so flawed that the American Immigration Lawyers Association called it “unworkable.”
However, he is right about one thing: If Congress came up with an immigration plan that worked, the states wouldn’t be taking immigration law into their own hands. Of course, that would mean his own party would have to stop blocking it.