Jeb Bush made some very provocative comments about immigration the other day. They were red meat for a conservative base that thinks in broad brushstrokes about foreigners. Actually, they were more like a bullfighter’s red cape, or scarlet blood in the water.
Commenting on the wave of illegal bodies present in our country, this brother of one compassionate conservative president and son of another observed: “The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families — the dad who loved their children — was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table. ... They broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family.”
Frankly, those observations were a little too Jean Valjean for me. It is a simplification to say that everyone who crosses the border does so to provide a better life for his children (unless you believe that drug traffickers are also loving parents). But on the whole, Bush is absolutely right: The men and women who take a short-cut around the legal process generally do so for the most basic of reasons: desperation.
That doesn’t mean we should just throw up our hands and let the floodgates open. Of course there needs to be order and, as the great Charles Krauthammer said, Americans have a right to decide who comes in and out of the country.
But this brings me to another point about the whole immigration debate. There is a mean-spiritedness that infects the discussion and keeps us from arriving at an equitable result. We don’t need the saccharine comments of a presidential hopeful, but neither do we need the vitriol spewed by some of the anti-immigrant groups who equate “the other” with disease, crime and a “brownification” of society.