No room for a u-turn

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What would you do if you saw your own family going down the wrong path? You would try to sway them to take a different direction, right?

Forgive me then, familia, but on the road toward immigration reform, our whole country is moving in the wrong direction — toward a police state in search of 11 million people who live among us.

And we are being led down that path by a president who has finally demonstrated he doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to the extreme-right faction of his party.

When President Bush outlined his immigration reform proposal in more detail last week, finally, it became very clear that this so-called “compassionate conservative” and devout Christian feels no sympathy for illegal immigrants.

Since he first proposed a temporary guest worker program that would force current illegal immigrants to return to their homelands after six years, immigrant advocates had been hoping that eventually the president would agree to create some kind of path toward legalization for the 11 million illegal immigrants who are already here.

Although Bush had already said he is opposed to granting them amnesty, they thought he would eventually endorse one of the proposals that provides legalization for immigrants to pay a fine for having entered the country illegally. Such proposals are meant to appease the right-wingers who insist lawbreakers cannot be rewarded.

But instead, Bush tried to appease the hardliners even further.

“The program that I propose would not create an automatic path to citizenship,” Bush said during a speech in Tucson, Ariz. “It wouldn’t provide for amnesty. I oppose amnesty. Rewarding those who have broken the law would encourage others to break the law and keep pressure on our border.

A temporary worker program, by contrast, would decrease pressure on the border.”

Unfortunately, without a path to legalization, a temporary guest worker program simply won’t work — at least not for the immigrants who are already in the United States.

While I can see foreigners agreeing to come for temporary work, it’s ludicrous to believe that illegal immigrants who have already settled their families here are going to sign up for a program that forces them to leave the country.

“Some 70 percent of the 11 million immigrants residing and working in the U.S. illegally have been in the U.S. for five years or longer,” said Angela Kelley, deputy director of the pro-immigrant National Immigration Forum. “The same percentage lives with close family members. Few will risk signing up for a visa that requires them to, in effect, self-deport.”

Throughout his speech, the most thorough he has delivered on immigration, Bush clearly demonstrated he has two priorities, and neither of those include compassion for illegal immigrants or concern for losing Republican appeal among Hispanic voters.

Instead, he was trying to appeal to immigrant bashers.

Even when he was being somewhat conciliatory, he did it in passing, as he was brown-nosing the hardliners. “I support increasing the number of green cards that can lead to citizenship.” he said. “But for the sake of justice and the sake of border security, I’m not going to sign an immigration bill that includes amnesty.”

There are more than a dozen immigration proposals on Capitol Hill, and even the most liberal ones don’t call for outright amnesty. Yet Bush keeps using that word — as some sort of code language to let the immigrant bashers know he is on their side.

In fact, Bush said he would not only increase funding for border security, but continue to persecute the illegal immigrants inside the country and to expedite their deportation proceedings.

The optimist might say there is still room for Bush to change course and to eventually sign a bill that includes a path to legalization — as long as it is not called amnesty.

But with the tough talk he has been delivering lately, and the erroneous path in which he is leading the nation, he is running out of room to make a U-turn.

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