Trusting Bush: The Immigration Deal
by Democratic Courage, Fri May 25, 2007 at 01:04:25 PM EDT
By Glenn Hurowitz
Do you trust George W. Bush - do you?
Some progressives are saying that when it comes to immigration, they're willing to cast aside all the past lies, suspicion, and betrayals and have faith that Bush's deal will help immigrants and help workers.
"I don't usually have nice things to say about President Bush, but this deal tends to separate people who have courage of their convictions and political opportunists," said Frank Sharry of the National Immigration Forum in a teleconference Thursday. "This is one time where President Bush deserves a real salute for having the courage of his convictions."
I have no doubt that President Bush believes in this immigration deal - the White House set its framework and wrote most of it. But shouldn't his backing make us want to dig a bit deeper? Think about who else is behind this bill, and who is driving Bush's enthusiastic support: businesses who are primarily interested in cheap labor.
On that same teleconference yesterday, the immigrant advocates had invited Craig Regelbrugge, Director of Government Relations for the American Nursery and Landscape Association (and co-chair of the Agriculture Commission for Immigration Reform. Unlike the progressive speakers, Regelbrugge didn't just say the bill was a "good start" - he announced his association's full throated support for the bill.
It's not surprising that Big Ag is drooling at this deal - it got everything it wants: a permanent underclass of guest workers that will guarantee them a legal supply of cheap labor. They'll be able to expose them to hazardous and abusive conditions without fearing unionization or a political backlash because so few (one to two percent) will ever be able to become citizens under the program. I can see it now: start chatting with your fellow workers, raise the suspicions of a foreman, and find yourself on a bus to Juarez (or jail) before you can pick your next poison-drenched peach.
Paul Krugman wrote eloquently about the damage the immigration deal will do to our democracy in his New York Times column today discussing the change between 19th Century liberal immigration policies and the severe restrictions in the 1920's.
Add in the disenfranchised blacks of the Jim Crow South, and what you had in America was a sort of minor-key apartheid system, with about a quarter of the population -- in general, the poorest and most in need of help -- denied any political voice.
That dilution of democracy helped prevent any effective response to the excesses and injustices of the Gilded Age, because those who might have demanded that politicians support labor rights, progressive taxation and a basic social safety net didn't have the right to vote. Conversely, the restrictions on immigration imposed in the 1920s had the unintended effect of paving the way for the New Deal and sustaining its achievements, by creating a fully enfranchised working class.
...What progressives should care about, above all, is that immigration reform stop our drift into a new system of de facto apartheid.
There's no doubt this deal will be bad for the country as a whole - what about the immigrants themselves?
Even immigrant advocates heralding the deal admit to genuine worries. On the teleconference yesterday, Cecilia Muñoz of the National Council of La Raza admitted that the provisions dealing with legalization are "worse" than current law. And the 370 miles of double-layered concrete border fence mandated under the deal will guarantee that immigrants go further and further into the desert, risking dehydration and death to get to the United States. And even though the national environmental movement has been unconscionably silent on the question, the border wall will cause U.S. populations of jaguar, pronghorn antelope and other species to go extinct, further pollute the Rio Grande, and destroy bi-national "Peace Parks" like the El Pinacate/Cabeza Prieta Peace Park that straddles the border.
So if the deal is so bad, why are immigrant advocates entertaining it?
First off, they are happy about some elements of the deal that will allow more immigrants overall into the country. And they have faith that somehow they'll be able to take out the offensive provisions without endangering the fragile "Grand Bargain" that got the deal as far as it has come. But mostly, they're totally freaked out about what will happen if nothing gets done this year. They say they're worried that if immigration reform fails, the political pendulum could shift and mass enforcement of the immigration laws could occur - resulting in difficulties for undocumented immigrants in the country. As a result, they've been willing to swallow - for the time being - some of the worst provisions of this deal in the name of "getting something done."
While I understand their worries, I don't think they're realistic. As long as President Bush retains the "courage of his convictions" and is interested in supplying American corporations with cheap, politically powerless labor, there won't be real increases in immigration enforcement (especially not the kind of enforcement that would have a real impact: seriously penalizing employers who illegally hire undocumented workers). And Congressional action is unlikely as well: Nancy Pelosi has criticized the House bill for making it harder to reunite divided immigrant families; she's not likely to endorse mandated increases in raids and enforcement.
Fifteen minutes after listening in on the immigrant advocate/agribusiness teleconference, I walked over to the Senate TV and radio gallery to attend the Senate immigration "dealmakers" news conference and listened to senators Ted Kennedy, Dianne Feinstein, and Ken Salazar caution progressives not to "make the perfect the enemy of the good."
I couldn't help but think of all the other times that trio has said the same thing. Ted Kennedy when he cut a deal with Bush on No Child Left Behind. Dianne Feinstein when she co-sponsored Bush's logging subsidy program and tarted it up as the "Healthy Forests Initiative". And Ken Salazar when he supported President Bush's anti-environment, anti-consumer energy bill despite (or because of) more than $10 billion in subsidies to big polluters in the oil, coal, and nuclear industries.
I have a feeling that this latest "good" might yield yet another Bush deal hangover, not just for progressives, but for the immigrants, workers, and environment we're fighting for.
Glenn Hurowitz, who blogs at Democratic Courage is the author of the forthcoming book Fear and Courage in the Democratic Party
Tags: Agriculture, Dianne Feinstein, Energy, Environment, fear and Courage in the Democratic Party, George W. Bush, Glenn Hurowitz, healthy forests, immigration, Ken Salazar, No Child Left Behind, Paul Krugman, Service Employees International Union, Ted Kennedy, workers (all tags)