Bush, Putnam Discuss Importance of Immigrant Integration

Cyndy Liedtke Hogan, National League of Cities, December 13, 2010

Referring to themselves as an “odd couple,” Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, and Robert Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard University, came together during the Congress of Cities & Exposition to discuss an issue important to them both–immigrant integration in the United States.

“We both believe in this larger, angry debate . . . one crucial issue is largely ignored,” Putnam said. “We have a lot of immigrants and we are not doing enough to integrate them into American life.”

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“I hope Congress gets its act together and realizes it’s important to get this done. We need comprehensive immigration reform,” Bush said.

He added later, “The dreams of immigrants become American dreams.”

Putnam offered an historical perspective, saying that there has always been turmoil and tension when it comes to integrating immigrant groups into American society.

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Managing language and the acquisition of English is, and always has been, an important part of the process, he said.

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He [Bush] also cautioned against “lowering the bar” for immigrant children in schools.

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Bush said one of the great success stories of American history is the nation’s ability to absorb people from all walks of life to pursue their dreams.

This is also an economic issue, Bush said. The country needs to grow the population to have young, dynamic people to be the workers of the future.

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When asked how to change the paradigm from exclusion to inclusion, Bush said it’s an economic necessity–a high-growth economy “requires that we solve this issue.”

“The fact is immigrants are aspirational,” Bush said. “They came here to add to their lives because they couldn’t do it where they lived. Policies need to get in line with that.”

Putnam said the payoffs for inclusion are huge and called for funding for English training.

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Both Bush and Putnam said they oppose the Arizona immigration law, citing how their own children or grandchildren could be targeted because of their background and how they look.

They also agreed that deporting illegal immigrants from across the country would cost billions and not be very effective.

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