Give 'Em Hell Harry: Bush Needs to Stand Up to Right Wing on Immigration

As President Bush campaigns for immigration reform today in Arizona, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) called on the President to dismiss the concerns of conservatives for an enforcement-first plan of action.

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R.-Colo.), leader of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, who is perhaps the most outspoken proponent of the idea, told HUMAN EVENTS he was deliberately left out of the White House meetings about immigration reform earlier this year.

But the tide began to change recently when Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the need to bolster enforcement. It seemed the Bush Administration was finally getting the message: If you’re going to ask for an amnesty plan (or “guest worker,” in the words of Bush), then you must first crack down on illegal aliens and strengthen worksite enforcement.

Not so, says Reid. If Bush reaches out to his base, Dems won’t cooperate, Reid warned today. Here’s his letter to the President.

November 28, 2005

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush:

I write on the occasion of your trip to the southern border of Arizona, a state literally on the front lines of a public policy problem that our nation can no longer afford to ignore.  
As a former border governor, you have firsthand experience addressing the immigration issue.  As President, you have advocated a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, a view at odds with many members of your party in Congress.  Your leadership is needed to encourage bipartisan and realistic reforms to our immigration laws in the upcoming session of Congress.

Between 1999 and 2004, the number of agents in the Tucson sector of the Border Patrol increased by 56 percent, while the number of arrests increased by 4 percent.  As Arizona Republican Representatives Jeff Flake and Jim Kolbe recently observed, we increased the number of Border Patrol agents on the Arizona border over the last decade by ten-fold and quintupled the immigration enforcement budget, but during that same period, the probability of catching immigrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border fell from about 33 percent during the early 1980s to 5 percent in 2002.  

This enforcement-focused strategy did not stop the illegal flow, but merely encouraged immigrants to cross in more remote areas where they would be more difficult to catch and more likely to die.  This last year, a record 248 people died trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona between Oct. 1, 2004 and Sept. 30, 2005.

Clearly the federal government must work to shut down the flow of illegal immigration across our borders.  It is crucial to our national security that we do so.  But enforcement alone does not work.  Unless we address the gap between our immigration laws and reality, illegal immigration will not stop and the situation on the border will continue to be chaotic.  

As Congress finally begins to address this problem, I hope that you will stand up to the right-wing of your party and stand up for what is right.  Democrats support immigration policies that will reunite families, provide for continued American economic growth, protect the rights of American workers, secure economic stability for our neighbors to the south, and honor the values of the United States of America as a nation of immigrants.  I look forward to working with you to make these goals a reality.


Harry Reid                                                                   
Senate Democratic Leader