Jeb Bush’s new tome, “Immigration Wars: Forging An American Solution,” hit bookstores on Tuesday and is already making waves in the immigration debate and 2016 sweepstakes alike.
Bush’s book, co-authored by Goldwater Institute director Clint Bolick, shares a lot in tone and style with other works by plausible presidential candidates. A lot of feel-good American rhetoric, inspiring anecdotes about average citizens, hat tips to popular causes in the party, and reminders of the author’s accomplishments in unrelated areas (in this case, education.) Its core parts are a framework for immigration reform and a political manifesto about GOP outreach to Latinos, both of which are hotly debated within the party and could be directly affected by Bush’s book. Here are some of the highlights:
Obamacare Is Bad Because Citizens Whose Parents Are Illegal Get Benefits
Here’s a surprise. Seemingly out of nowhere, Bush condemns the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, recently accepted by Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL), for doling out “welfare” to the children of illegal immigrants.
“This is why the Obama administration’s attempt to coerce states to adopt a major Medicaid expansion as part of its national health-care program had the effect of inflaming anti-immigration sentiment,” he and co-author Clint Bolick write. “Although the administration assured the states that illegal immigrants would not be eligible for Medicaid benefits, their children who are born in the United States are eligible because they are citizens. Moreover, if illegal immigrants are offered a path to citizenship or permanent legal residency, eventually they will become eligible as well. Fortunately the US Supreme Court struck down the Medicaid expansion by a 7-2 vote as unduly coercive and therefore contrary to constitutional principles of federalism. The proposal should not be resurrected.”
What’s strange is that Bush isn’t even complaining about illegal immigrants getting Medicaid benefits, he’s complaining about American citizens who were born in the country whose parents are undocumented. But that has nothing to do with Obamacare: the president didn’t invent Medicaid and those kids were already free to apply, just as their citizenship lets them apply to myriad social programs. It is true, as Bush notes, that more of these children will be eligible for Medicaid benefits in states like Florida now. That’s because more Floridians in general will be eligible for Medicaid under the Obamacare expansion.
Interestingly enough, the legal principle that government can’t single out children of immigrants was reaffirmed in 2012 when a court threw out a state law barring citizens with undocumented parents from receiving in-state tuition. The state that passed the law? Florida.
The whole thing sounds an awful lot like something a Republican candidate for president might say in a primary debate. This is a running theme in the book, which also name checks the Fast and Furious scandal and Bush’s support for voter ID laws.
Mitt Romney Blew It
Bush is pretty tough on Romney, calling his campaign “a tragic lost opportunity made more so because it was largely self-inflicted.” He and Bolick describe their horror at watching the GOP primary debates, especially Romney’s “missteps” on immigration which “hung like an anvil around his candidacy.”
“By sharply criticizing Texas governor Rick Perry for his in-state tutition program for certain children of illegal immigrants, and by making his leading immigration adviser a prominent proponent of ‘self-deportation,’ Mitt Romney moved so far to the right on immigration issues that it proved all but impossible for him to appeal to Hispanic voters in the general election,” they write. “However little or much anti-immigration rhetoric counts in Republican primaries, it surely succeeds in alienating Hispanic voters come the general election.”
Never mind that Bush wrote earlier in the book that granting benefits to children of illegal immigrants “had the effect of inflaming anti-immigration sentiment.” The results of Romney’s attacks were “as predictable as they were painful.” His prescription: pass immigration reform then reach out to Latinos on education (Bush’s signature issue, which gets a whole chapter)
“If this trend is not arrested and reversed the growing influence of Hispanic voters will doom the Republican Party’s future electoral prospects,” he writes.
Also, I’m Done With A Path To Citizenship
Bush lets fly at Romney for his hardline rhetoric and positions, but in the same book he moves his own immigration stance several notches to the right. The biggest bomb to drop from “Immigration Wars” is that Bush no longer supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a policy he backed just months ago and which is now a centerpiece of bipartisan efforts in the Senate to pass a bill. Instead, he favors granting some form of permanent legal residency if undocumented immigrants pay taxes, a fine, learn English, and pass a criminal background check.
“Permanent residency in this context, however, should not lead to citizenship,” Bush writes. “It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences — in this case, that those who violated the laws can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship.”
No Wall Either
Bush is not a fan of a border fence: “The image of a fence makes us seem more like Fortress America than the country whose attitude is embodied by the Statue of Liberty. A fence encompassing all 1,969 miles of our southern border would be enormously costly and not necessarily effective.” He adds that so-called “virtual fences” using unmanned aircraft and cameras “so far have not proved effective” either. He suggests working more closely with Mexican authorities to secure the border and potentially deploying military or more National Guard to prevent smuggling and trafficking.
It’s Immigrants Or Higher Taxes
Bush’s book is primarily aimed at convincing Republicans to go along with some version of immigration reform, especially his proposal to expand legal work-based immigration while decreasing legal family-based immigration. One interesting point to that effect: Bush argues that the only alternative to adding more immigrant workers given America’s weak population growth is higher taxes or weaker Medicare and Social Security benefits.
“When a nation’s dependency ratio increase — that is when the number of people depending on social welfare benefits rises in proportion to the number of workers supporting those benefits — it has only four possible policy options. It can increase taxes (which likely will reduce productivity, thus exacerbating the problem), it can increase the retirement age, it can decrease benefits — or it can increase the number of immigrant workers.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.