Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t have answers on policy toward illegal immigration before Saturday’s massive rally in downtown Los Angeles. It remains to be seen if he has them now. But he does have a start.
In an op-ed piece for today’s Los Angeles Times, the moderate Republican who is himself California’s most famous immigrant lays out what might best be described as an approach to a policy.
“First, immigration is about our security,” Schwarzenegger writes. “The first order of business for the federal government is to secure our borders. And Washington simply must do a better job of it. We learned on 9/11 that not all those who cross our borders want to share in the American dream. A few want to replace it with a nightmare.”
In case you hadn’t gotten the message about who the governor says is responsible for ensuring what he describes as his top priority, he goes on to say that “Congress must strengthen our borders.”
So far, he has no state role in immigration security. And the particulars of the federal role are quite unclear. Should border security be heavily beefed up in the form of the Border Patrol or other security forces, as U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein has suggested? Should there be a fence or wall, as called for in other proposals, including the Sensenbrenner bill currently at issue in Congress? The governor doesn’t say.
In any event, it’s a far cry from the hurried comments in favor of the irresponsible “Minutemen” movement that landed him in hot water last year.
“Criminalizing immigrants for coming here is a slogan, not a solution,” writes the former action superstar, placing himself in opposition to the core notion of the bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. “Instead, I urge Congress to get tough on those illegal immigrants who are a danger to society,” referring to people who commit crimes while in the country illegally, urging their immediate deportation.
“Second, immigration is about our economy,” states the pro-business politician. “The freest nation in the world, and the freest economy in history, depend on a free flow of people,” a phrase which might be misinterpreted. “Immigrants are here to work and contribute. I support efforts to ensure that our businesses have the workers they need and that immigrants are treated with the respect they deserve. We should pass a common-sense temporary worker program so that every person in our nation is documented.”
Schwarzenegger thus places himself in favor of a guest worker program. Yet he leaves the particulars, its duration, its parameters, for another time.
He then comes out against a blanket amnesty program: “We can embrace the immigrant without endorsing illegal immigration.”
“Granting citizenship to people who are here illegally,” the governor says, “is not just amnesty … it’s anarchy. We are a country of immigrants, yes. But we are also a nation of laws. People who want to be citizens will want to do it the right way.” Again leaving the particulars of how a citizenship program might be structured for another time.
Schwarzenegger then comes out for what what is commonly called “mainstreaming.” With a positive spin rather than any denunciation of unassimilated enclaves.
“Finally,” he writes, “immigration is about our values. Too often the debate centers on what immigrants owe us. Too seldom do we ask what we owe them. Above all, we owe it to our country and our immigrants to share our values. We should talk about our history, our institutions and our beliefs. We should assimilate immigrants into the mainstream. We want immigrants to not just live in America but to live as Americans.”
It will be interesting to see how Arnold fleshes this out in the midst of an election year. He and his people know that his doing away with the very unpopular drivers licenses for illegal immigrants bill signed by then Governor Gray Davis was one of his most popular acts as governor in 2003 and now. They also know that a latter day version of 1994’s Proposition 187 ballot measure taking away key education and health services would likely pass this year as well, although the long-term effect for the Republican Party with Latino voters, the largest growing voting constituency, would likely be catastrophic.
But in any event, Schwarzenegger, who acknowledges voting for Prop 187 in 1994, no longer supports it, memorably declaring a year before he ran for governor — when the recall was on no one’s mind — in a 2002 appearance at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco that he “would never stand in the way of a child going to school.”
What Schwarzenegger has laid out this morning will not satisfy the very politically correct left, whose overzealous members bridle at great length at the very use of the commonly accepted term “illegal immigration.”
It certainly won’t be welcomed by advocates of a de facto open border policy. Nor will it satisfy the hardcore zealots on the other end of the spectrum, who seek to demonize illegal immigrants, to bizarrely turn the act of wanting a better life and the willingness to work for it into a serious criminal act worthy of felony sanctions. But it may, for all its incompleteness, mark a good starting point, especially for Republicans.