Sunday, March 24, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Today, we offer a break from the nation’s toxic rhetoric on immigration by presenting excerpts of a speech that provides a glimpse of hope that Americans can find a way forward on the issue.
The speech came from former President George W. Bush, who presented it this past Monday during a naturalization ceremony for more than 50 immigrants from upwards of 20 countries. The event took place at the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
In his remarks, Bush expressed regret that he wasn’t able to guide the comprehensive immigration reform package he developed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2007 through the legislative process. But he also took the opportunity to urge the nation’s leaders to “dial down the rhetoric, put politics aside and modernize our immigration law soon.”
He further gave an inspiring and compelling explanation of why the nation should continue to welcome immigrants. Here it is:
“The United States is in many ways the most successful of nations. Historically, where immigration is concerned, we’re also the most welcoming of nations. And these two facts are related.
“So many of us can draw a line back to a man or woman who had the idea that life could be better, and that hope led them here.
“Generations of new arrivals left their mark on our national character, in traits that friends abroad still recognize as distinctly American — our optimism, our independence and openness to the new, our willingness to strive and to risk, our sense of life as an adventure dignified by personal freedom and personality responsibility.
“Such qualities don’t come out of nowhere. A spirit of self-reliance runs deep in our immigrant heritage, along with the humility and kindness to look at someone less fortunate and see yourself. Across the world, good men and women still dream of starting life anew in America — people who bring energy and talent and faith in the future.
“Often, they bring a special love of freedom because they have seen how life works without it.
“The great yearning of so many to live in our country presents a significant challenge. America’s elected representatives have a duty to regulate who comes in, and when. In meeting this responsibility, it helps to remember that America’s immigrant history made us who we are.
“Amid all the complications of policy, may we never forget that immigration is a blessing and a strength.”
Bush’s speech was compassionate, even-handed and positive, a stark contrast to current leaders who vilify immigrants, spread outrageous mistruths about them and scapegoat them for all kinds of societal ills.
The former president’s tone and message were exactly what is needed in the national discussion about immigration.
Bush was a flawed president whose administration helped set the stage for today’s poisonous division by fueling contempt against moderates and progressives, but it’s commendable that he’s continuing to be a strong voice on the need for immigration reform.
Don’t misunderstand, he’s not soft on the issue. He called for security at the border and support for border patrol staff. Policy changes supported by his institute include enhancing enforcement of immigration laws.
But the organization also advocates for such pro-immigration reforms as expanding a high-skilled visa program and overhauling temporary visa worker programs to establish a pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
In short, Bush and his institute believe there’s a positive path forward as opposed to building a wall, instituting travel bans, putting children in cages and jailing people who come here seeking asylum.
“For whatever the opinion of one retired politician might be, I believe we will see our way clear to immigration policies that are just, fair and in the interests of the whole nation,” Bush said.
We share the former president’s optimism. Americans took a big step in that direction during the 2018 election — especially here in Nevada — by electing a number of reasonable, responsible state and congressional candidates to replace extremists on immigration and other issues.
Those new leaders, like Bush, are seeing immigration as a blessing and a strength — a bedrock of American values. That’s the perspective that should frame the discussion, not suspicion and exclusion.