Sanity is beginning to trickle into the debate on immigration reform, writes columnist Rick Outzen.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce says that developing clearer paths to citizenship is good business and will help fill critical worker gaps in the state’s economy. The chamber, a conservative bastion of entrepreneurs, stood shoulder to shoulder with Catholic bishops and human rights activists to make the announcement.
The humanitarian crisis – more than 50,000 unaccompanied Honduran, Guatemalan, and Salvadorian children crossing our borders without their parents since October — must have grabbed the attention of both the bishops and the businessmen. Perhaps it’s grabbed the attention of another Floridian, whose silence about the crisis has become deafening.
In recent years, former Governor Jeb Bush has taken the national stage, becoming the Republican Party’s voice of sanity on immigration reform. This year, Bush was credited as a major force behind the passage of Florida’s House Bill 851, which grants in-state tuition rates to undocumented student-immigrants who enroll in the state’s university system.
Following publication of his book last year, “Immigration Wars,” Bush straddled the border between his fellow Republican moderates and the right wing of his party. First, according to the LA Times, he wanted a clear path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but got pounced upon by Tea Partiers for that stance.
Then he advocated for a road to legal residence but not citizenship, and was attacked by Democrats for flip-flopping. Most recently he’s said he was open to either path — to permanent legal residence or to citizenship — and he emphasized that family reunification or legal immigration were the options he was referencing.
Now we know that there is another, legal option. And it’s brought more than 50,000 children across our border. The former Governor’s brother, former President George W. Bush, signed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, right before he vacated the White House. It was a noble act. It had bipartisan support. And, not unlike many federal laws, it also has had unintended consequences: more than 50,000 living, breathing, hungry, and parentless consequences.
One conservative columnist, The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, predictably invokes the modus operandi of the right: Step one, remind everyone in post-recession America how bad it is here; step two, fan the flames of what can only be called the politics of personal resentment: “Our house is falling down. How can we possibly let those children in?”
Sure, our house needs some work. Our House needs to do some work, too. But we must see to these children because that’s what Americans do. We do it because the goals of helping ourselves and helping others are not mutually exclusive. We do it because there are people of faith and other human rights activists who care about these children enough to act, and who are willing to help walk them to safety.
It may take unparalleled action by our nation’s faith communities — a million points of light, as Bush 41 might say. It may take some help from the international community to solve what is, after all, an international child-refugee crisis. But we act because, for all our imperfections, we are still the leaders of the Free World.
Gov. Bush, you’ve walked this political tightrope before. Take this opportunity to speak up for these children, not for the hope of swaying Florida’s mostly Hispanic I-4 corridor in 2016, although you might. And don’t do it because you want my vote, because that’s not likely. Do it because this nation is losing its way, and you have created a unique role for yourself — an ability to speak on this issue as no one else can.
There are more than 50,000 little points of light trickling in over the border. They could use an act of love.
Julie Delegal, a University of Florida alumna, is a contributor for Folio Weekly, Jacksonville’s alternative weekly, and writes for the family business, Delegal Law Offices. She lives in Jacksonville. Column courtesy of Context Florida.