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Bush's Fake Immigration Offer

President Bush's attempt to be a moderate on the immigration issue has sent many of his erstwhile supporters into a frenzy. But sadly, when it comes to Bush and his right-wing base, it seems the enemy of my enemy is rarely my friend. His immigration proposal is downright insulting:

The White House draft plan, leaked last week, calls for a visa that would allow undocumented workers to apply for three-year work permits. They would be renewable indefinitely, but cost $3,500 each time.

To become legal permanent residents, illegal immigrants would have to return to their country, apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate to re-enter legally and pay a $10,000 fine.

Perhaps it should have occurred to him that people who are coming to this country because picking tomatoes for a few dollars a day is a step up the economic ladder might not have thousands of dollars on hand. So obviously immigrants and their allies aren't buying it:

"Charging that much, Bush is going to be even more expensive than the 'coyotes,' " protester Armando Garcia, 50, said, referring to smugglers who take people across the border.

But I have to disagree with one immigrant's analysis of why Bush wants such exorbitant fees:

"For my wife and I, it would cost about $30,000," said Francisco Gomez, 41. He and his wife are in the country illegally. "Multiply that by all the illegal immigrants here . . . It's obvious Bush just wants to fund his Iraq war with our money."

Bush has never shown any sign of recognizing that is he wants to spend money on a project (like the war), he has to get that money from somewhere. He is, after all, the President who ran up the biggest budget deficit in the country's history.

What's actually happening, I think, is (at least in part) a move to strengthen the rhetorical position of the anti-immigration crowd. Perhaps the most common argument from "reasonable" conservatives on immigration is that they're not anti-immigration, they're just anti-illegal-immigration. They say that they will welcome with open arms anyone who waits their turn in line and goes through the proper channels to enter the country.

The problem with the "anti-illegal-immigration" argument is that there is no line to wait your turn in -- the current immigration system is so byzantine that there is simply no way for most would-be immigrants to enter legally. Bush's plan cleverly circumvents this argument. The $10,000 green cards and $3,500 work visas create a theoretical possibility for much more legal immigration. But in practice they do little or nothing to enable more people to have status. Thus we will continue to have a large illegal immigrant population, but the theoretical path to legality will make it easier for conservatives to demonize them and justify harsh treatment, since it's technically possible for them to have come here the proper way.


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