NY Times editorial praised Bush on immigration despite calling the type of proposals Bush has publicly supported "a recipe for indentured servitude"


A New York Times editorial stated that President Bush "talks a good game on immigration," despite describing immigration proposals mirroring those Bush has publicly backed as "a recipe for indentured servitude."

In a March 29 editorial, The New York Times said that President Bush "talks a good game on immigration," despite describing immigration proposals mirroring those Bush has publicly backed as "a recipe for indentured servitude." The Times editorial compared proposals that would "creat[e] a temporary-worker underclass" and include "no new path to citizenship" -- which it did not identify with Bush -- to a bill the Senate Judiciary Committee approved on March 28, which included an amendment sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) "that would allow illegal immigrants to start on a path to citizenship by registering, paying a fine [$2000 plus back taxes], getting fingerprinted and learning English, among other requirements." The Times editorial also ignored Bush's statement applauding the House of Representatives' approval of an immigration bill in December 2005 -- even though the editorial said that the House bill, which focused only on border and internal enforcement, "makes a virtue out of being tough but not smart."

The Times editorial echoed a March 28 USA Today story that incorrectly reported that the Judiciary Committee had approved "President Bush's plans for overhauling immigration laws" and that those who voted for the bill had "backed Bush's approach." In fact the bill approved by the Judiciary Committee includes a provision setting out a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which Bush opposes. Such reporting falsely divides Congress into only two camps on immigration -- those who support Bush's guest worker program and those who don't -- a division that ignores members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, who also want to provide undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship.

The Times praised the Judiciary Committee bill, approved 12 to 8, as not "forcing [illegal immigrants] into buses or jails but into line, where they could become lawful residents and -- if they showed they deserved it - citizens." But the editorial failed to note that the administration appears to oppose such an alternative path to citizenship. A November 28, 2005, White House "fact sheet" stated that Bush has proposed a new "temporary worker program," under which "temporary workers will be able to register for legal status for a fixed time period and then be required to return home." In a November 30, 2005, "Ask the White House" online discussion, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff appeared to oppose the type of path to citizenship proposals the Times favors:

Greg, from Arlington, VA writes:

President Bush has been clear on his desire for a guest worker program. Does he favor a program with a pathway to legal permanent residence? If not, what does he believe is the incentive for residents of other countries to apply for a possible guest worker program rather than cross the border illegally?

Michael Chertoff

Greg, thanks for your question. The proposed temporary worker program is not an automatic path to citizenship, nor is it an amnesty program. The President has proposed a plan to bring undocumented workers out of the shadows and into a regulated system that will allow them to work for period of 3 to 6 years and then return to their own country.

You're right that there are millions of people who choose to follow our legal immigration system each year by applying for worker visas, legal permanent residency or citizenship. We are a nation of immigrants, but we cannot allow someone who has chosen to break our immigration laws to preempt those individuals who choose a legitimate means of entering our country. Rewarding those who break the law would encourage more illegal entrants and increase pressure on the border. Ultimately, the incentive for residents of other countries to apply for a guest worker program versus attempting to illegally enter the country will be the clear understanding of the extremely high probability of their apprehension at the border and a prompt return to their home country.

Other recent news articles and columns have similarly failed to make clear where Bush stands in relation to Congress on immigration issues. News outlets frequently have depicted Bush as battling Republicans in Congress who want no guest-worker program. But they don't note that Bush is also battling other members of Congress -- including some Republicans -- who favor legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

On March 28, USA Today reported that "[t]he Senate Judiciary Committee gave a strong bipartisan endorsement Monday to President Bush's plans for overhauling immigration laws" and that in the final vote, "Four Republicans and eight Democrats backed the Bush approach." The article continued: "The Senate bill runs counter to a bill passed by the House of Representatives with heavy support from Republicans who oppose Bush's immigration policy. The House bill stresses enforcement and deportation rather than allowing immigrant workers to stay." In fact, as mentioned above, the House bill, the Senate bill, and Bush's proposal set out three very different approaches to the problem of illegal immigration.

Another example is a March 29 Washington Post column by Ruth Marcus, who wrote that the GOP is "riven between an enforcement-only approach and Bush's kinder, gentler immigration reform." Marcus argued that Bush is in conflict with his base, which is "hostile to proposals to ease the legal path for those in the country illegally." Marcus specifically cited polls showing opposition "to making it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens," and a "narrower majority" who "opposed making it easier for illegal immigrants to work here," but never mentioned that Bush supports only the latter.

From the March 29 New York Times editorial titled "It isn't amnesty":

But unlike the bill's counterpart in the House, which makes a virtue out of being tough but not smart, the Specter bill would also take on the hard job of trying to sort out the immigrants who want to stay and follow the rules from those who don't. It would force them not into buses or jails but into line, where they could become lawful residents and -- if they showed they deserved it -- citizens. Instead of living off the books, they'd come into the system.

The path to citizenship laid out by the Specter bill wouldn't be easy. It would take 11 years, a clean record, a steady job, payment of a $2,000 fine and back taxes, and knowledge of English and civics. That's not "amnesty," with its suggestion of getting something for nothing. But the false label has muddied the issue, playing to people's fear and indignation, and stoking the opportunism of Bill Frist [R-TN], the Senate majority leader. Mr. Frist has his enforcement-heavy bill in the wings, threatening to make a disgraceful end run around the committee's work.

The alternatives to the Specter bill are senseless. The enforcement-only approach -- building a 700-mile wall and engaging in a campaign of mass deportation and harassment to rip 12 million people from the national fabric -- would be an impossible waste of time and resources. It would destroy families and weaken the economy. An alternative favored by many businesses -- creating a temporary-worker underclass that would do our dirtiest jobs and then have to go home, with no new path to citizenship -- is a recipe for indentured servitude.


It's time for President Bush, who talks a good game on immigration, to use every means to clarify the issue and to lead this country out of the "amnesty" semantic trap. He dislikes amnesty. Mr. Frist dislikes amnesty. We dislike amnesty, too.

The Specter bill isn't amnesty. It's a victory for thoughtfulness and reason.

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