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George W. Bush pushes immigration reform

Which is the latest organization to speak out in favor of immigration reform?

The George W. Bush Institute, a conservative think tank connected with the former president and located at Dallas’s Southern Methodist University.

Spearheading a coalition of business and religious groups including the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it sent a letter to Congress last week saying, “The current situation underscores the urgent need to modernize America’s immigration system so it can increase the efficiency of legal immigration, more effectively ensure American security, welcome refugees, and maintain the fabric of the American Dream.”

The ex-president feels the same way. In an op-ed piece published in The Washington Post on April 16, he wrote, “We . . . need a modernized asylum system that provides humanitarian support and appropriate legal channels for refugees to pursue their cases in a timely manner. The rules for asylum should be reformed by Congress to guard against unmerited entry and reserve that vital status for its intended recipients.

“Increased legal immigration, focused on employment and skills, is also a choice that both parties should be able to get behind,” he added.

At this point, it doesn’t look that way.

Immigration reform bills are currently stalled in the Senate. In 2013, when partisan hatred was far milder than it is today, eight senators, Democratic and Republican—including John McCain (R-AZ), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL)—introduced the comprehensive and far-reaching Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.

It was killed by House of Representatives, then controlled by the Republicans, on the grounds that it would have provided a majority of undocumented aliens with a path to citizenship.

The latest phase in the congressional farm labor drama came in 2019-20: this time it was the House—by now controlled by the Democrats—that came up with a bill, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019. The bill’s provisions included the creation of a guest worker program.

This bill, like its predecessors, came to nothing. This time it was the Senate (now controlled by Republicans) that allowed it to die.

No comprehensive update of agricultural labor laws has taken place since 1986, when the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was signed. Granting amnesty to millions of undocumented aliens already in the country, it was supposed to stop illegal immigration. It failed.

One conservative who isn’t sold on immigration reform is Rich Lowry, editor of The National Review. In an editorial written after Mr. Bush’s op-ed piece, he linked the former president’s position with “the lazy conventional wisdom that all that ails the country on immigration is lack of an agreement to give an amnesty to illegal immigrants already here and increase numbers of legal immigrants, in exchange for more bells and whistles at the border—what is commonly known as ‘comprehensive immigration reform.’

“Such requirements are always promised in comprehensive immigration bills and are always toothless, serving only as a way to deny that the amnesty for illegal immigrants is indeed an amnesty, ” Lowry adds.

What’s the solution? Lowry calls for “rigorous enforcement in the interior of the country.”

Employers in the produce industry have their own, all-too-direct experience with the labor issue.

Here are two possibilities, both promoted by conservatives: immigration reform or more rigorous internal enforcement. They can decide for themselves which they prefer.

Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 11 books.