The Republican Party has long been known for its hard stance against illegal immigration. But former Florida governor Jeb Bush — widely seen as a contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 — is sounding a different note, saying that many immigrants come to the United States as an "act of love" to provide for their families. It's still a crime, he said, but one that should be treated differently from other crimes.
Is Jeb Bush right? Should we treat immigration differently? Can he still win the GOP nomination with his stance? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
JOEL MATHIS: One thing's for certain: Jeb Bush will never be president. The GOP voters who pick their party's nominee will never select a man who speaks about illegal immigrants in such empathetic, humane terms.
Which is great for Democrats.
It's been a decade since John Judis and Ruy Teixeira produced "The Emerging Democratic Majority," which predicted America's demographic trends — particularly the growth of the Latino population — would produce an electorate increasingly inclined to vote for Democrats and against Republicans.
The 2012 election — in which Mitt Romney received the votes of most white guys and Barack Obama collected a majority of everybody else — seemed to confirm that thesis. And Republicans knew it too: It's why Sean Hannity almost immediately softened his rhetoric on immigration after that election, and why Sen. Marco Rubio spent a year in his failed attempt to bring the Democratic and Republican parties together on a grand bargain to achieve some level of immigration reform.
But it wasn't the Democrats who failed Rubio. It was the GOP base, which won't allow their representatives to vote for any measure that offers any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are already here. How silly.
Unless you're an American Indian, your parents or grandparents or great-grandparents came here for the exact same reasons immigrants come today, facing the exact same challenges — ranging from language barriers to simple contempt — faced by today's immigrants. Republicans want you to believe this wave is different, somehow, more threatening to the American identity. That's what conservatives said during previous immigration waves, going all the way back to Ben Franklin's time.
Millions of immigrants here now aren't, for the most part, going home. They have family and friends who vote, though; someday, too, their children and grandchildren will vote. Forget "love" as a justification; you'd think the GOP would love its own electoral prospects enough to change. It doesn't. It's going to be a great few decades to be a Democrat.
BEN BOYCHUK: If illegal immigration is an "act of love," what does that make legal immigration? An act of compliance? How boring. Love and bureaucracy don't mix.
As "acts of love" go, however, it's difficult to pinpoint where exactly sneaking across the border might fall on the spectrum. It seems more momentous than a first kiss or a first marriage, but less significant than the birth of a child or remaining devoted to the Chicago Cubs.
As you can see, the metaphor runs into trouble quickly. How many adulterers could justify cheating on their spouses as an "act of love"? What are crimes of passion if not perverted "acts of love"? What is sin if not love misdirected?
We're talking policy, not theology. Not all illegal acts are immoral, and not all immoral acts are illegal. But we really don't need a potential Republican presidential candidate confusing people about the rule of law this way.
Gov. Jeb Bush is right about this much: As crimes go, crossing the border of the United States illegally isn't quite so bad as murder, rape or disturbing a federally protected wetland. The hardworking men and women at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau will tell you it's much more serious than jaywalking or breaking the speed limit, however.
But the truth is, federal agents are more likely to use force against a rancher raising "trespass cattle" in Clark County, Nev., than they are to crack down on the thousands of people trespassing daily on U.S. soil in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. That may not tell you everything you need to know about the government's misplaced priorities, but it should tell you a great deal.
Bush believes some illegal immigration "is a different kind of crime" and that even though "there should be a price paid ... it shouldn't rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families."
This is wishful thinking, not serious statesmanship. But given the intractable politics of immigration reform, perhaps it's better to play down hard-nosed considerations of sovereignty, security, assimilation and citizenship — the stuff that nations depend upon to survive. Who needs a green card when all you need is love?
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. Joel Mathis is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/benandjoel.