More than three months have passed since the conclusion of the 2004
presidential election. But 2005 is starting to sound a lot like the bitter year we just
passed through. Issues such as Social Security reform and tax cuts are
serving to keep partisan juices and invective flowing.
Yet for liberal Jews and their organizations, which have not been shy about
demonstrating their eagerness to trash President Bush's domestic agenda,
there's at least one issue on which they are finding themselves on the side of the
White House, and that's immigration.
But the question for them, and for the administration, is how much of a
priority they are willing to place on it in an era where a post-9/11 backlash
against possible terrorist infiltration has combined with traditional xenophobia to
make immigration a hot potato.
And on that point, the indications aren't entirely positive. For Bush, Social
Security reform and passing the budget are obvious priorities. But the
congressional GOP may try to force Bush to give up immigration reform to get support
on other bills.
On the other side of the aisle, liberal activists are so focused on
refighting the last election that many are unwilling to use their muscle to back the
president, even on an issue that's always been one of the Jewish community's
And that's a shame, because to the consternation of many in his conservative
base, the president has put himself on the line to oppose further efforts to
restrict the flow of immigrants and refugees into the country.
INTERVENTION FOR REFUGEES
A year ago, Bush proposed a plan to effectively offer a form of amnesty to
illegal immigrant workers. Though the proposal attracted little support, he
remains undaunted. As part of this year's agenda, the president is again seeking
to provide visas to some of the nation's estimated 10 million undocumented
On the question of admission of refugees, it took Bush's personal
intervention to sharply increase the number of refugees permitted to enter the United
Refugee admission has been severely restricted since the attacks of Sept. 11,
2001. This has left many of those who seek to flee religious and political
persecution abroad waiting, often under intolerable conditions, in refugee camps
around the world.
Even worse, those who came to this country seeking asylum without first
getting a visa have been kept under conditions even a U.S. government study has
admitted are poor.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reported earlier this
month that those fleeing persecution are generally treated as criminals upon
arrival here, and are often exposed to the hazards of prison life, a practice
that puts women and children in danger.
Fortunately, White House action on the issue has caused the State Department
to raise the number of persons given asylum in this country by more than
20,000 next year. Ironically, this was set in motion by the White House Office of
Faith-Based and Community Initiatives - one of the administration's voices
that is least loved by liberal Jews - which set up meetings for the president
with two refugees whose stories help galvanize him into taking action.
But at the same time, many conservative Republicans are opposed to Bush's
initiative. And, led by Wisconsin Republican F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the
chair of the House Judiciary Committee, they have been pushing measures to further
restrict the activities of illegals, such as obtaining driver's licenses.
The rationale given by Sensenbrenner for this is that it would prevent
another attack by "disrupting terrorist travel." But it also included a provision
making it easier for judges to throw out asylum-seekers.
The notion that making it even harder for people to come to this country will
stop the flow of terrorists is a joke. Nor will punishing those who came here
without documentation help the situation. It is the rigidity of our system
that has helped create the immigration chaos that potentially allows terrorists
What we have now is a set of unenforceable laws that vainly attempt to thwart
the demands of the market. It also diverts resources away from terrorist
interdiction to the futile war to keep out busboys who will work for less than the
The procedures for legal immigration are already so cumbersome, and involve
so much delay that no terrorist will use them. All it does is place an even
greater burden on asylum-seekers, often those least able to fend for themselves
because they are victims of persecution in their homelands.
THIS ISN'T EUROPE!
Others, including many in the Jewish community, look at the prospect of
continued immigration as a threat to democracy because they fear waves of Muslims
will alter our demography and our politics the way they have in Europe.
But again, such fears are misplaced. The overwhelming majority of people who
come here are people who want to be Americans for the same reason our own
grandparents chose this nation: economic opportunity and political freedom. And
though few among the nativist rabble-rousers on Capitol Hill or in the media
have noticed it, such immigrants are incredibly productive and help keep our
That also raises an ironic point about Social Security. The National
Foundation for American Policy, a nonpartisan research center based in Virginia,
reports that if legal immigration goes up by as much as one-third over the next 75
years, it will cause a 10 percent reduction in the Social Security fund
deficit. But if immigration falls by a third, the study says the shortfall will
increase by 10 percent.
That's something for both opponents and supporters of Bush's Social Security
plan to chew on. It also puts into focus exactly what's at stake in the
ongoing debate about immigration. The flow of hard-working potential citizens into
this country is the life blood of our economy, as well as of our democracy.
That's why conservative Republicans are fools if they don't realize they are
sacrificing their party's chances of solidifying their majority in the future
if they continue to play the know-nothing card.
And as for liberals who hate Bush, they need to keep in mind that it's the
president who's the one man who can keep America's gates open to immigrants.
They should remember this the next time they damn him and his faith-based