Jewish World Review Sept. 10, 2001/ 21 Elul 5761

Wesley Pruden

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The big opportunity
for George W. Bush -- LET'S see if we've got this straight: If Vicente Fox can dump all the Mexicans into the United States, he can make Mexico a world power.

If we'll just open the border, and make it like our border with Canada, gringos will be free to flee to Mexico in search of opportunity.

George W. understands it. So do his political strategists, despairing of cracking the black vote and eager to use Hispanics to neutralize it for '04. Vicente Fox understands and wants to help. So why can't churlish congressmen?

"We have heard his call," George W. said yesterday. Too bad for the two presidents, so has Congress.

Some people, looking for an opportunity to polish their piety, argue that anyone who objects is mean-spirited and selfish, maybe a know-nothing and probably a racist. Aren't we all immigrants?

George W. has said nothing like this, but his headlong pursuit of the Hispanics -- and their votes -- with frequent lapses into border Spanish and giddy dinner-party hyperbole sometimes sounds as much like pandering as pursuit.

"The United States has no more important relationship in the world than our relationship with Mexico," he said in his toast to President Fox at the state dinner the other night. Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice, even taking into account the effervescence of the 7-Up in the president's glass, might nominate Russia and China as more-important countries.

Others might argue that London, Bonn, Paris and Tokyo pack more weight than Mexico City. Why raise the question?

But the new president is entitled to a little slack. The view from Austin is as limited in its way as the view from Little Rock. Bill Clinton arrived in town with no interest in foreign affairs, but he soon got the geography down.

Mr. Fox insists that the United States overhaul immigration by the end of this year. He revealed his actual goal in remarks to Congress. He said he doesn't believe the American folk wisdom that good fences make good neighbors. "Circumstances have changed. We are now bound closer together ... our links are countless and growing."

George W. learned a thing or two about the immigration issue over the past fortnight. Apparently taken aback by Mr. Fox's attempted generosity to himself, the president called proposals to grant legal status to Mexicans now in the country illegally "an incredibly complex issue." He now concedes that any immigration overhaul to grant legal status to 3 million Mexicans now illegally in the United States must not penalize those who came by the rules. He might have said, but didn't, that neither must the consideration for the Hispanic vote penalize immigrants from other countries, particularly from Asia and Eastern Europe. (They vote, too.)

The figure "3 million" is tossed about as if it were fact, but no one really knows. Many estimates range to 4 million or 5 million; some range as high as 9 million.

Mr. Fox inadvertently identified the two problems that worry many Americans who are as good-hearted and as generous as those who spout the pieties but who are nonetheless cautious about inviting everyone in the Western Hemisphere to come on in. The Mexican president, perhaps taking a cue from his host, switched from English to Spanish in his remarks to Congress. Can anyone recall a German chancellor or an Italian (or even a French) prime minister doing that?

The United States is not a bilingual nation, and it is doomed to eternal anguish if it allows itself to become one.

The president could do our new Spanish-language immigrants a big favor if he makes it clear that bilingualism is not an option, now or ever, that the United States owes them the opportunity to learn English and that if they want to succeed here they must learn and use the language of their new home.

"Mexico needs you," Mr. Fox told his countrymen here. "We need your talent and entrepreneurship. We need you to come home one day and play a part in building a strong Mexico."

Earlier waves of immigrants arrived in the United States to burn their boats on the beach, knowing they had no choice but to make a new life here. America has always afforded new immigrants economic opportunity, but America has the right to insist that immigrants call this home.

"As the history of this country shows," Mr. Fox said, "migration has always rendered more economic benefits to the United States than the cost it entails. Many among you have a parent or a grandparent who came into this country as an immigrant from another land."

Right on. But they came as immigrants, not as visitors. George W. should use the bully pulpit to remind sinners as well as the choir that this is so.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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