Hell just froze over. It must have, because President George W. Bush finally got something right. Going against many of his Republican cronies, he is supporting the guest worker program in the immigration bill recently approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and currently being debated in the full Senate. Yes, instead of militantly protecting our borders, Bush welcomes immigrants.
If the bill passes Congress and becomes law, it would legalize thousands of illegal immigrants, expand the guest worker program and build up border security. According to the New York Times, there are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. If these 11 million immigrants hold jobs, pay fines and back taxes, learn English and pass criminal background checks, they will be given U.S. citizenship. The process would take 11 years – they must work in the country six years to obtain permanent residency, and then five more to get citizenship.
Another 400,000 people will be allowed to pass U.S. borders in the expansion of the guest worker program, which allows immigrants to work in the U.S. for six years, and allows employers to petition for permanent residency for them after six months. Not to worry the more conservative folk, it also would step up border security, though in a tamer fashion than the Republican-controlled House’s bill.
This bill means a great deal for immigration policy; it is finally a positive way of dealing with the mass immigration from our southern border. New immigrants will have the chance to make a better life for themselves in America. They won’t have to remain illegal for a decade in fear of the Immigration and Naturalization Service deporting them.
It will be safe for them to become legitimate citizens, earn minimum wage, and receive better working and living conditions. These new immigrants will finally be given the chance all of our ancestors were given.
The House’s immigration plan is the opposite – a militant bolstering of border security, interested only in keeping everyone out. They even approved a plan to build a 700-mile-long fence along the U.S. southwestern border. If that isn’t a mental institution-worthy episode of paranoia, then it is racism as strong as the Jim Crow South.
What is so bad about our Mexican neighbors that the government feels the need to build a fence? Nobody wants the jobs they get once inside our borders; who else wants to be a migrant farm worker or domestic worker for some exceedingly rich WASPs? Who are the Mexicans taking work from? These same people trying to stop them from entering also complain that illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes. They can’t pay taxes if they are illegal, but legalize them and they will. With this new bill, they will even pay back taxes.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” That is the poem that we still proudly display inside the museum of the Statue of Liberty, the symbol for which America stands. Does this poem mean nothing now? Apparently, there is some unwritten “RSVP by” date on that engraving. We all came from esentially the same circumstances as those who now seek to cross our borders. We should not deny them.
For the first, and probably the last, time, I am actually happy with our president. Even though the guest worker program is all that he supports, it is still something.
In the end, I know the most radical piece of the legislation, legalizing the illegal immigrants, probably doesn’t stand a chance in the full Senate or in the House, but it is a step in the right direction. Perhaps Bush’s two terms leading this country won’t be a complete loss.
Ashley Helaudais can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.