Reagan And Bush In The Days When The GOP Had A Sane Immigration Policy
As Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush remind us, there was a time when Republicans weren't xenophobic nationalists when it comes to immigration policy.
Under Donald Trump, the Republican Party has come to stand as the party opposed to immigration reform and, indeed, seemingly opposed to immigration altogether. This isn’t actually something that just arose in the past two years, of course. It began at least back during the Bush 43 Administration when Republicans, and particularly conservatives, were instrumental in blocking immigration reform. That trend continued under the Obama Presidency when, except for a handful of Senators an Congressman, Republicans refused to even consider the possibility of comprehensive reform. Under Trump, of course, that has come to include support for the President’s border wall, opposition to programs such as Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) as well as opposition to any reform that includes so-called “amnesty” for people in the country illegal.
It wasn’t always this way, of course. There was a time when Republicans and conservatives were pro-immigrant and indeed competed against each other to prove their bona fides regarding who was the most pro-immigrant. Perhaps the best example of that can be seen in a 1980 debate between Ronald Reagan and his eventual Vice-President George H.W. Bush who, at the time, were competing against each other for the Republican Presidential nomination:
A Republican primary debate clip from the 1980 presidential campaign resurfaced this week, and it sounds completely different from the GOP of 2019.
In the footage, future presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush spoke with sympathy about the plight of undocumented immigrants and offered ways to welcome them. Reagan even slapped down the idea of a border fence and said he’d like to “open the border both ways” while Bush praised the undocumented as “honorable, decent, family-loving people.”
Reagan would go on to defeat Bush in the primaries and become America’s 40th president. Bush would serve as Reagan’s vice president, then become the commander-in-chief in 1989.
During the debate, a member of the audience asked the candidates about undocumented immigrants attending U.S. public schools. Bush said he wanted a solution “so sensitive and so understanding” to both labor needs and human needs. He also said “reluctantly” that anyone in the country should get “whatever it is that their society is giving to their neighbors.”
Bush also became emotional over the notion of an undocumented child who may not be able to attend school.
“These are good people, strong people,” Bush said. “Part of my family is Mexican.”
Reagan called for a “better understanding and better relationship” with neighbors such as Mexico.
“I think that we haven’t been sensitive enough to our size and our power,” Reagan said,
Reagan went on to say:
“Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then while they’re working and earning here they pay taxes here? And when they want to go back, they can go back, and they can cross. And open the border both ways by understanding their problems.”
You can watch the full video of this segment of this debate at C-SPAN, or via the copy I have embedded below:
What a difference nearly forty years makes. Based just on these comments on immigration, neither Reagan nor Bush would be welcome in what has become Donald Trump’s Party. That says more about the Republican Party than it does about either the 40th or 41st President, and none of it is good.