Posted on July 9, 2009

Another Bush, Another Push for Immigration Reform

Walter Shapiro, Politics Daily, July 9, 2009

Sometime around 6 a.m. Wednesday, the apologetic emails went out to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)–Jeb Bush’s plane had broken down and he was stuck in Maine. For want of two wings, the former Republican governor of Florida was unable to fly to Washington to give lift and luster to the release of a report calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

It is no surprise that the CFR (an invitation-only membership organization filled with foreign policy mandarins) put together an immigration task force that ended up ratifying the establishment position on the issue. {snip}

What added drama was that presidential brother (and son) Jeb Bush was willing to serve as co-chairman of the CFR task force along with former Bill Clinton chief of staff Mack McLarty. At a time when few Republicans are willing to risk antagonizing the party’s conservative base on immigration (paging John McCain), here was the most popular Bush in politics volunteering to stick his neck out. “Jeb Bush is such an important, vocal, leading Republican,” says Tamar Jacoby, the president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national federation of employers championing immigration reform. “He’s a very significant figure to come forward on this.”

The former Florida governor’s physical absence Wednesday morning meant the loss of TV footage about the CFR report, but it did not diminish the political reality that Jeb Bush had endorsed this conclusion: “The Task Force recommends that a new effort to pass a comprehensive immigration bill be a first-tier priority for the Obama administration and Congress.”

{snip} Over the next few months, the White House will decide whether there are enough likely GOP votes in Congress to risk making a major push for immigration reform before the midterm elections. {snip}

Immigration is that rare major issue on which the Bush family has always been on the liberal edge of the Republican Party. {snip} But most GOP conservatives opposed the president by denouncing any effort to legalize the status of illegal immigrants . . . as “amnesty.”

{snip} As Jeb Bush put it in a recent interview with Tucker Carlson for Esquire, “The swing voters are Hispanic voters in most of the swing states. And the Republicans have done a poor job, sending signals that Hispanics aren’t wanted in our party. Which is bizarre.” The same attitudes appear to have carried over to Jeb Bush’s meetings with the task force. When asked about Bush, task force director Edward Alden said, “He’s dismayed that elements of his party have taken such a strong anti-immigrant stand.”

Regardless of the partisan politics, there is a near-universal recognition that immigration reform is impossible as long as most Americans believe that the borders (and the gateway airports) are more Open Sesame than secure. In a recent interview with me, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano acknowledged that the voters need to know “that we have operational control of the borders.” The CFR report argues that this challenging goal is well on its way to being achieved: “The United States has made impressive strides in the past several years in strengthening its border enforcement measures.” {snip}