Immigration to me is personal . It means my wife and family, as it has for countless Americans since our country was founded.
In 1970, on the central plaza of the town of León, Mexico, I met a beautiful young woman with the beautiful name of Columba Garnica de Gallo. After spending a few weeks in León, I knew I wanted to marry her. It seems crazy in this era of young people waiting for years until they decide to marry, but I tell our children it was what people used to call love at first sight.
A year later, Columba moved from León to Southern California, where she went to school and worked. We carried on a long-distance romance for almost four years, until we were married in the Newman Catholic Center at the University of Texas in Austin in February 1974.
Thanks to my wife, I became bicultural and bilingual, and my life is better because of it. For the first time in my life, I learned what the immigrant experience was, and I grew to appreciate her desire to learn English and embrace American values, while still retaining her love for the traditions of Mexico.
My wife became an American citizen in 1979, and she was able to vote for her father-in-law for President of the United States. Her citizenship ceremony—and the many I have participated in subsequently—are some of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It is a fundamentally American experience to see people of every nationality, every background, all coming together to swear their loyalty to our great country. Most have tears of joy in their eyes, and all of them aspire to a better life than what they left behind. That has been true of all immigrants to America, from the very beginning.
I am writing this book because I believe that a good immigration policy is necessary to live up to the values that make our country truly exceptional.
At the age of twenty-four, Columba and I moved to Caracas, Venezuela, along with our son George, who was eighteen months old, and our daughter, Noelle, who was three months, in order to open a representative office for Texas Commerce Bank. The job required me to travel throughout much of South America, and as a business experience, it was terrific for a guy my age. However, living overseas quickly made me appreciate the United States of America a lot more. It became clear to me that our country’s exceptional nature comes from its openness, its dynamism, and a set of values that allow it to embrace a rich diversity without tearing us asunder.
And then we moved to our beloved Miami. That amazing city, in and of itself, is another reason I decided to write this book. On January 1, 1981, my family and I moved to Miami to start a new life. Miami is an incredibly diverse metropolitan area with large immigrant communities from many countries. Today, Miami-Dade County has a population of 2.6 million people, 51 percent of them foreign-born. There is no other large community in America close to that percentage. Miami also has a higher than average percentage of participation in military, and I can attest to its patriotic nature. Miami’s immigrants have made my hometown a vibrant, dynamic, and exciting place to live, and that in turn has made it a magnet for even more immigration from inside and outside our country.
Because I was the son of the vice president, and later, of course, president, George H. W. Bush, and living in an immigrant community, many people came to see me, hoping I could help with their immigration problems. I had never before witnessed the tragedy our immigration system had become. It is incredibly cumbersome, complex, opaque, sometimes capricious, and downright bureaucratic. I know from personal experience how expensive and slow it can be. I did my best trying to help people with legitimate claims, but it broke my heart seeing people languish inside the system with their paper files lost in some far-off place. It angered me that our great country can’t seem to organize itself effectively regarding immigration as other countries do.
Miami-Dade also has borne the brunt of the negative side of immigration. Our first few years in Miami, we saw the cost of unchecked immigration. The costs created by the minority of
Cuban immigrants who arrived with the Mariel boatlift in 1980 were enormous in terms of the crime wave they created and the social costs they imposed. In addition, Miami became the center of narco-trafficking, which added huge burdens to our community. So you see, I know firsthand what happens when the federal government is lax in enforcing our immigration laws.
I also know firsthand the good that comes when the federal government makes border enforcement a high priority.
In 1982, I called my dad to say that there was a drug dealer living on our same block. Neighbors said he had been bragging about importing cocaine from Colombia. I called after there was screaming from his wife, who had been locked out of their home in the middle of the night. The Reagan-Bush administration responded to many similar calls for action and the drug trade was dramatically curtailed in Miami because of the federal, state, and local task force headed up by Vice President Bush and Attorney General Ed Meese.
In the early 2000s, the George W. Bush administration dramatically reduced the flow of drugs from Colombia and the Caribbean into South Florida, using the Coast Guard and Navy. That was done with the full cooperation of the state of Florida.
After Attorney General Janet Reno refused to accept a partnership, we proposed to help the federal government with their duties to enforce the immigration laws of our country. In June
2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft signed an agreement creating the first 287(g) Cross-Designation Program in the country. Florida was the first state to get the feds to allow local and state law enforcement officers to be trained to act on behalf of Border Patrol and other federal law enforcement officials. I have always felt that this effort could be expanded dramatically and lessen the frustration that local and state officials have regarding the inability of the federal government to combat the crimes of illegal immigrants.
Three successful initiatives point the way to how to get border security right: the vice president’s task force of the 1980s; the federal-state efforts to control the importation of drugs in the early 2000s; and the cooperative agreement to extend the reach of immigration officials using state and local resources.
As governor, I saw the impact of immigration policy on my state and the country. On September 11, 2001, America was changed forever by the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. Four of the nineteen terrorists got their pilot’s licenses in Florida. Ten of the terrorists had valid Florida-issued identifications (some received only ID cards, and some had driver’s licenses). Three of the nineteen had valid visas that had expired. Clearly we had been too complacent as a nation.
Beyond its relation to border enforcement and homeland security, immigration was woven into most of the issues that I dealt with during my eight years as governor, and most prominently the economy. Florida’s three largest industries—hospitality, construction, and agriculture—could not endure without immigrant workers. The 80 million visitors a year, the $8.26 billion of agriculture produced, and the construction business—Florida is historically one of the top three home-building states in the country—will all be impacted, unless we achieve comprehensive immigration reform. The jobs that will be lost and the opportunities that will be missed won’t affect only immigrant workers. The economic livelihood of all Floridians will be hurt. The same applies to most regions of the United States.
As we all know, the economic livelihood of our great country is at greater risk than it has been at any time in the last fifty years. The aging of our population (and at sixty years old, I am part of that population) is a demographic time bomb that is shaking the sustainability of our savings for retirement, the viability of the entitlement system, and our ability to create robust economic growth.
Consequently, the Social Security system is experiencing a declining worker-to-beneficiary ratio, which will fall from 3:3 in 2005 to 2:1 in 2040, according to the Social Security Administration.
All of this brings us to the reason why we have written this book: In order to restore sustained, economic growth going forward, we need a new immigration strategy that opens our doors to young, aspirational people from all around the world, so that they can pursue their dreams in our country. The United States of America has always been one of the few countries that can successfully do this. This will require public leadership. It will require breaking out of the gridlock of Washington, D.C. It will require new thinking, focused on the realities and opportunities of 2013 and beyond. I hope this book can help people see that through reforming our immigration system, we can restore America’s promise and greatness.
Finally, there is little Georgia. My youngest son, Jeb Jr., married his lovely wife, Sandra, a little more than three years ago. She is a Canadian citizen whose parents are of Iraqi nationality and moved to Toronto in the 1970s. Jeb met her in London. Her mother lives in Amman, Jordan, and her stepfather is from New Zealand. My precious granddaughter, Georgia Helena Walker Bush, is going on two now, and she is the joy of my life. Twenty years from now, like millions of other Americans, she will be asked by census takers what her race or ethnicity is. I am certain she will say, “Not applicable,” or, “Not relevant.” But the identity politics that pervades our society currently makes us ask, What is she? By what hyphenated form of “American” should she be called?
In reality, Georgia is an American with a diverse heritage. She will be taught to love her country and all of that rich heritage. (My hope is that she will be trilingual, at least.) Perhaps hers will be the new face of America—a nation that is always capable of changing for the better. But we cannot allow our dysfunctional political system and the political correctness of our times to stymie the great American tradition by which values, rather than race or ethnicity, define what it is to be an American.
Fixing our immigration system won’t solve all of our country’s problems, even by the time Georgia grows up, but we owe it to the children of her generation to give this challenge our best efforts.
Preface by Clint Bolick
I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s in a segregated suburb in northern New Jersey. Many of my friends’ parents or grandparents were European immigrants, mainly from Poland and Italy. But rarely if ever did I encounter a darker-skinned immigrant.
My brother is fourteen years older than I, and he was a rebel from the beginning. In defiance of my father’s advice, Jerry joined the Marines just as the Vietnam War was heating up. Through a combination of luck and intransigence, my brother managed to serve four years in the Marines in the mid-1960s without being sent to Vietnam. Instead, he spent much of the war in Hawaii, where he met and fell in love with Irma, a second-generation Filipino-American from San Francisco.
In my eyes, Irma was beautiful and even exotic. Shortly after she and Jerry married, my father died, and my mother, sister, and I moved for a year to the Bay Area, where we were immersed in Irma’s family. In contrast to our own white-bread family, her family was huge, boisterous, matriarchal, passionate, emotional, and demonstrative. To this sheltered and impressionable eleven-year-old from New Jersey, the food seemed as sumptuous as it was strange. The experience was, for me, an epiphany.
While I attended law school at the University of California at Davis, I worked nights at a convenience store, many of whose customers were Mexican migrant farm workers who worked locally. I recognized in their weathered, callused hands the same dirt-caked fingernails I had seen on my father’s hands. He had been a welder with only an eighth-grade education. I remembered how hard my dad worked so that we could afford to live in a middle-class neighborhood with good schools. And I understood that these men were doing exactly the same thing as my father: working hard to make an opportunity for their families.
My views on immigration were imprinted indelibly from that experience: I came to believe that we should not be looking for ways to keep people like those farmworkers out of our country. We should be looking for ways to bring them in.
My mother became my sparring partner on the issue. She and I were both solidly conservative and agreed on nearly everything—except immigration. In my mother’s mind, immigrants exploited American generosity, committing crimes, inflating the welfare rolls, and stubbornly refusing to shed their language or culture when they moved here. All of them, that is, except for the immigrants she personally knew, who were all fine, hardworking people whom she would be happy to welcome into the American family. Over time I discovered that my mother’s attitude toward immigration was widespread among conservatives. And throughout my career in public policy, I frequently have parted company with many of my fellow conservatives over immigration issues.
Over more than three decades as a constitutional lawyer, I have repeatedly had the good fortune to represent immigrants from Mexico, Asia, and Africa, particularly on two issues: school choice and freedom of enterprise. I have defended school voucher programs in several states, usually representing low-income families whose children previously were consigned to failing and often dangerous public schools. Immigrant families cherish education, recognizing its central role in helping their children succeed and prosper. They make enormous sacrifices—often working multiple jobs—to enable their children to attend good schools.
Similarly, I have represented immigrants in lawsuits challenging regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship. It never ceases to amaze me how hard immigrants are willing to work to start businesses and make an honest living. They have not come here for welfare. They have not come here to commit crimes. They come here, often overcoming tremendous hardships, in order to earn a share of the American Dream.
In 2001, my wife, Shawnna, and I moved to Arizona. I love nearly everything about my adopted state, but the one thing that troubles me greatly is Arizona’s widespread hostility toward Mexican immigration, not just illegal but legal as well. Among many Arizona conservatives, opposition to immigration dwarfs all other political issues, even in the face of economic recession.
The vehemence on this issue initially puzzled me, given that Arizona still is the land of Barry Goldwater and largely reflects his libertarian, live-and-let-live philosophy. Indeed, I have often joked that if Arizonans are really serious about protecting our traditional values against assault from hostile newcomers, we should wall off our western border to California rather than our southern border.
But I discovered that the hostility to immigrants in Arizona has very deep roots. I came across a fascinating book, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction.1 It recounts the story of forty Irish orphans who were sent west from a Catholic orphanage in 1904 to be adopted by families in Arizona mining towns. Because the Catholic families in the area were Mexican-American, the orphans were placed with them. Incensed that blond-haired, blue-eyed children would be adopted by Mexican-Americans, a group of vigilantes went from house to house and seized the children at gunpoint, placing them instead with white families. The abductions were challenged all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sustained the actions. It is a sordid yet little-known chapter of Arizona history. Yet the divisive feelings that manifested in the abductions continue to infect an otherwise great state more than a century later.
It is difficult in Arizona to even suggest solutions to immigration issues without being derided as “pro-amnesty.” It was especially painful to watch as Senator Jon Kyl, a longtime friend and true statesman, unsuccessfully attempted to find bipartisan common ground through comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, only to be branded a traitor or worse by many in his own party. Indeed, the dominant wing of the Arizona GOP was so strident on the issue that it led me to leave the Republican Party and become an independent nearly a decade ago.
None of this is to minimize legitimate concerns raised by many immigration critics. The welfare burden imposed by illegal immigrants places strains on state and local budgets at a time when resources are scarce. Even more salient are concerns pertaining to Arizona’s border with Mexico. The horrific violence on both sides of the border wrought by drug cartels has reached crisis levels. Our nation has not fully come to grips with the nature and extent of the crisis. However, strong border security does not go hand in hand with suppressing immigration, although in Arizona they are often seen as one and the same. Even as Arizona has been at the epicenter of a long-overdue debate over immigration policy, it also has earned the unfortunate reputation of being decidedly inhospitable to immigrants.
My experiences in Arizona have made it painfully clear how difficult it is to bridge the divide over immigration policy. Yet it is absolutely essential that we do so. Despite the most extreme elements on both ends of the political spectrum, who will do anything they can to defeat comprehensive immigration reform, it appears that most Americans share common values and beliefs when it comes to immigration. They believe that immigration is a net positive for America, and that the rules of immigration should be fair and enforced. A policy that reflects those values and beliefs should not be difficult to accomplish.
What has been lacking is political courage—the courage to face down the demagogues and to reach across the political aisle for the good of our nation.
That is why I am so proud and excited to coauthor this book with former governor Jeb Bush. My usual relationship with politicians is suing them. But Jeb is different from most politicians—and I use the term reluctantly in describing him—because for Jeb, politics is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. I had the good fortune to work with Jeb when he was first elected governor in 1998, helping him fulfill his promise to bring school choice to Florida, and subsequently helping defend the program against legal challenge. As governor, Jeb transformed the Sunshine State’s education system, dramatically expanding and improving educational opportunities for all children, especially economically disadvantaged students. The results have been amazing. Today, Jeb works with governors of both parties across the nation to effectuate positive education reform. He also is an outspoken proponent of immigration reform and the need for Republicans to play a positive role on that crucial issue, and he is willing to speak his mind regardless of political consequences. I am hopeful that by writing this book together, we can contribute to helping our nation make significant progress toward positive and enduring immigration reform.
Recently I had the honor of presenting keynote remarks at a naturalization ceremony at my children’s charter school in Phoenix. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. The entire student body, from kindergartners through sixth graders, was in attendance. The children waved American flags and sang “God Bless the U.S.A.”—continuing the song without missing a beat even when the stereo system broke down and Lee Greenwood’s voice disappeared. But the greatest joy was in the faces of the twenty or so men and women from various countries, many of them with tears streaming down their faces, who at last were achieving their dream of becoming American citizens.
Among the many benefits that immigrants bring to our shores, none is so great and so vital as replenishing the American spirit. Even the most patriotic among us sometimes grows complacent in our freedom. Immigrants remind us that freedom still is the exception rather than the rule in the world, and that it is precious and fleeting. Those of us who were lucky enough to have been born Americans should honor and cherish those who choose our nation because of its values and who successfully travel the difficult road to American citizenship. I believe it is not only our moral obligation as a nation of immigrants, but also essential to our future, that we make that road less difficult to travel rather than more.
Indeed, we should tremble at the prospect that one day we will cease to have an “immigration problem” because people no longer want to come here. For that means we will have lost the freedom and opportunity that has made our nation a perpetual beacon to millions of people around the world.
To sustain our greatness requires us to continue to encourage and welcome the energy and passion that newcomers bring to our nation in abundance.
And that in turn requires us to confront and surmount the difficult challenges of immigration reform.
To that end this book is dedicated.