Former President George W. Bush made some interesting remarks on immigration last week that largely fell under the radar. At a Southern Methodist University forum, Bush was asked if he believed that there would be any significant progress on immigration over the next decade. He responded that although he believes that “a rational immigration policy” will eventually be passed, “I think there’s going to have to be some time.” The reason for that, according to Bush, is the nativism that has percolated around the country:
What’s interesting about our country, if you study history, is that there are some “isms” that occasionally pop up. One is isolationism and its evil twin protectionism and its evil triplet nativism.
So if you study the 20′s for example, there was an America-first policy that said “who cares what happens in Europe.” Well, what happened in Europe mattered eventually because of World War II. There was Smoot–Hawley which was part of an economic policy which basically said we don’t want trade and there was an immigration policy that I think during this period argued that we had too many Jews, too many Italians, therefore we should have no immigrants. And my point to you is that we’ve went through this period of isolationism, protectionism, and nativism.
I’m a little concerned that we may be going through the same period. I hope that these “isms” pass which would then allow for a more orderly look at immigration policy.
Bush also claimed that “the reason immigration reform died wasn’t just because of one party.” However, while a majority of Democrats voted in favor of the Bush administration-backed immigration reform bill 0f 2007, most Republicans voted against it. Bush also failed to call out his party for being the primary driver of nativism in mainstream politics.
Meanwhile, Bush’s brother, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), has tepidly criticized his own party’s nativist strain. When asked by Univision’s Jorge Ramos if “Republicans behaved well towards Hispanics and immigrants,” Jeb Bush admitted, “Well, some Republicans have not behaved well in that aspect, some have.” He also advised Republicans to adopt a “civility and tone that draws people toward our cause rather than rejects them.”
However, the Bush brothers don’t appear ready to fully acknowledge the role their party has played in stoking nativism and killing the chances for sensible immigration reform in the near future. In 2009, the ultra conservative American Cause hosted an event aimed at convincing Republicans that “support for border security, national sovereignty, and immigration control rallies the GOP and brings Reagan Democrats back into the GOP.” Many Republicans heeded their advice in 2010 and the nasty immigration landscape we are facing in 2011 is largely a result of that strategy.