Opinion: Jeb, Bill and Me

Complete with finger-pointing and veins bulging, Bill O’Reilly and I had a memorable, televised confrontation over illegal immigration a couple years back. Downloaded hundreds of thousand times since, the clash was as close to a fist fight as I had ever been without a punch actually being thrown. Angry and filled with righteous wrath, Bill accused me of wanting border “anarchy.” Just as mad, frustrated and also self-righteous, I accused him of trolling for a “cheap political point.”

Others here at the network accused me of “running for King of Mexico!” And from that night on, my pro-immigration reform stance put in the peculiar position of being at odds with a majority of my own viewers; one of the few times that has happened in more than four decades in the news business.

Jump cut to today, when O’Reilly has surprisingly begun a courageous campaign to make immigration reform one of our nation’s legislative priorities for Republicans and Democrats. For his reasons, read his Talking Points memo.

Mine are several, and range from compassion to politics to good business. Consider that I am a registered Republican who believes Mr. Obama is President and Mr. Reid Senate Majority Leader because of the draconian stance taken by GOP hardliners like Nevada’s Sharon Angle, Colorado’s Tom Tancredo, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and Iowa’s Congressman Steven King and their ilk. No self-respecting Latino could vote for politicians like them who have gone out of their way to demonize and stereo-type the undocumented in a distasteful attempt to equate them with terrorists.

Readers of this column know that I would implement the Dream Act immediately; i.e., all innocent, undocumented high school graduates who came into the USA before the age of 16 should be granted probationary legal status if they attend college and get at least an Associate’s Degree or serve honorably in the military.

Longer term, I would make a date certain for all undocumented migrants to assemble in Wal-Mart parking lots across the land, under a promised ICE enforcement ceasefire. Once assembled, they will be photographed and fingerprinted and given a yellow card that protects them against deportation. This will give us time to use the data collected to take a precise inventory to know how many are actually here. Intense background checks would then be completed. Those who are absolutely clean will then be required to perform whatever deeds or jump through whatever hoops Congress decides: paying fines, English-language remediation, fees, getting at the back of the line for eventual citizenship, etc. If those pre-conditions are successfully fulfilled their yellow cards will be upgraded to green.

All this will happen with a backdrop of continuing the intensive efforts to secure the borders. But workplace raids and other enforcement only activities would stop immediately. The only aliens targeted during the transitional period would be criminals, gangsters, drug dealers and gang members.

But last week I promised more of my exclusive with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush on the issue of the undocumented. Here is the man many believe would be the GOP’s strongest candidate, whether in 2012 or more likely in 2016.

“We need comprehensive reform to get to the place where we can grow our economy to create jobs for everybody, and we need to as a just and moral society,” Bush told me in a wide-ranging interview that emphasized the issue of the undocumented. “It seems to me, we need to create a path to legalization, where 12 million people, a great majority of who are making contributions, but they're doing it in the shadows. And I just don't see that as the American Way.”
Jeb’s plan?

“The first step is to control the border. Then, I think a lot of this other stuff begins to happen quite naturally where you have, E-Verify employer sanctions, where you have a guest worker program to deal with the ebbing and flowing of seasonal needs and where you create a strategy for economic growth that's not just about family reunification on immigration but expand dramatically the number of slots for scientists, for people in our graduate schools that can stay here, for entrepreneurs and for a large number of people that if you said come to America, you got to pick and choose who comes. Imagine the vitality that would bring to our country? It's been that way every generation. And for people now to say “No;” that's not the way we do things and is just a total invalidation of history.”

I asked: “You mentioned vitality. Wouldn't the Republican Party be far more vital if it embraced your ideas?”

“It's a question of political math. If Hispanic voters are increasingly the swing voters in the swing states, it cries out for common sense to make an effort on an ongoing basis to assure that Hispanics know that the Republican Party or the conservative cause wants them. And the other part of this that's pretty clear to me is that Latinos and Hispanics are naturally conservative in many ways.

“And so this is a natural alliance that, to ignore it is just like saying I'm going to pour kerosene on my head and light a match if you don't behave. I mean it's foolhardy. It just makes no sense to me. And having been governor and a candidate here in Florida with an incredibly diverse Hispanic population, I know it can be done. I mean, I got 60 plus percent of the Democratic Hispanic votes in Florida. And it wasn't necessarily they agreed with everything I did. In fact, many Hispanics are liberals. But they felt welcome. They didn't feel like there was a “them” and “us” kind of thing going on.

“The idea that somehow aspiring immigrants that come to our country, (irrespective of their status in this particular case), don't want to come here and work hard and be successful and save money and be able to live a better life, and that somehow that doesn't have value, I just reject. Now should it be done in an orderly, legal fashion? Absolutely, which is why we need to get to border control and then move as quickly as we can to a much more strategic immigration policy. The interaction of people earnestly trying to pursue their dreams creates more prosperity than any government program ever created; that is, I think, a Republican conservative value.”

Despite the crushing disappointment from the failure of the Dream Act, now, with both Jeb Bush and Bill O’Reilly on the side of comprehensive immigration reform, the underdog issue might have a chance.