At a time when immigration reform proposals have been moved so far to the right that even conservative Republicans could support them, out comes the White House with its own remarkably hawkish set of ideas.
For a president who supposedly wants comprehensive reform passed this year, George W. Bush is going out of his way to shoot himself in the foot.
The Democratic-controlled Congress was already considering a House bi-partisan proposal that is far more conservative than the comprehensive immigration reform package passed in the Senate last year. It was being hailed by editorial writers as a reasonable compromise to finally fix the nation's broken immigration system.
But instead of supporting it, the White House is now trying to swing the pendulum even further to the right. Last week, the administration floated its own even more conservative proposal, one that has no chance of getting approval from the Democratic majority in Congress.
Clearly, it's all about politics. Republicans are naturally worried that — after bashing immigrants for so long — once illegal immigrants become citizens, they are going to vote for Democrats. So the White House has been floating an immigration plan that would make it harder for them to gain citizenship.
In meetings with congressional GOP leaders, administration officials have reportedly floated ideas to further appease the xenophobic hawks. These ideas are clearly for the consumption of those who have a deeper, more sinister agenda, which is to slow the empowerment of Latinos.
After all, we know that's really what the conservatives are worried about. Since most illegal immigrants are Latinos, it's about suppressing Latino empowerment. It's not about giving legal status to some 12 million people who are already living and working here, people who are essential to the success of our economy.
It's about denying them, their children and the relatives they will bring from other countries, the right to vote.
Bush now seems to be telling his hawkish friends, "hey, no problem, we can delay that — indefinitely."
Of course, what they are doing is making the offer that will eventually be made to illegal immigrants so unattractive that many of them simply won't take it. And we'll still have a huge illegal immigration problem.
Even the House legislation, hailed as the middle ground proposal that all had been seeking, runs the risk of being rejected by many illegal immigrants.
That's because the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., requires illegal immigrants to return to their home countries, perhaps for only a few hours, and then return here legally.
For many illegal immigrants who are poor and have families, the cost of returning home and coming back is unaffordable. Of course, almost all these proposals call for a fine of at least $2,000 for every illegal immigrant who submits to a legalization plan. A family of five illegal immigrants would be paying at least $10,000 to get a green card and work here legally. Based on cost alone, many of them may choose to remain underground.
The Flake-Gutierrez bill would tighten the borders and toughen enforcement of immigration laws. It would establish many of the hurdles conservatives have been asking for, especially requiring new plans to toughen workplace enforcement and border security to be satisfied before its citizen provision kicks in. It would require a major buildup of border patrol officers and technology at the Mexican border, a system for employers to electronically verify whether job applicants are eligible to work here, and tougher penalties for many immigration-related violations.
The measure keeps many of the hurdles that were already in last year's bill. Applicants for legalization would still be required to pay a $500 fee, a $1,500 fine and any back taxes they owe. They would still be required to clear a security and background check, to learn English and civics, submit proof of past employment and maintain a felony-free record. Only after satisfying those requirements for six years would they be allowed to apply for permanent residency status, which could lead to citizenship five years later. It means they would have to wait at least 11 years for the right to vote as Americans.
But as expected, nothing was gained from taking this comprehensive reform proposal further to the right — because the hawks are still calling it "amnesty." And they will continue resisting any kind of legislation that will eventually create more Latino and more Democratic voters.
That's why the Bush administration is still trying to please its conservative extremist base by floating a proposal that would make illegal immigrants wait many more years before they could become U.S. citizens.
Nevertheless, even that proposal is threatening to those who fear Latino political empowerment. Even if that empowerment is delayed, expecting conservative extremists to come to a middle ground on immigration reform is absurd.
They have a deeper, more sinister, anti-Latino agenda.
To find out more about Miguel Perez, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.