I am proud to publish in the next few days my new collection of paintings entitled “One in Many”. Perhaps the book will not cause a stir in the art world. But I wanted to do two things: to share some portraits of immigrants and every one of them has a distinct story that I am trying to tell; And to humanize the immigration and reform debate. I hope these are the faces and stories that remind us that immigration is not only part of our heritage. The new Americans represent only strength for good now with their energy, idealism, and love for the country as they were before.
I wrote about a running champion who narrowly escaped ethnic violence in East Africa. This hero told me, “America gave me everything I dreamed of when I was a child.” I also share with readers the story of a man who came from France and pursued his dream until he became an American soldier and won the necklace of honor. Readers may remember two special citizens who fled Europe after the war as children, both of whom later became US Secretary of State. It is true that the backgrounds are divergent, but readers will have no difficulty finding a common link: it is gratitude. Many immigrants are filled with a sense of appreciation, a spirit that a Cuban-American friend excelled when he said, “If I were to live 100 years, I would never fulfill what this country did to me.”
The help and respect that newcomers receive are among the reasons so many people still aspire to be Americans and so wait. So, how can there be a country more generous than any other country with new arrivals, and its immigration policy is the source of so much hatred and bad intentions? The short answer is that the case has been exploited in a way that earns little of the credit for either party. No immigration proposal will be credible without confidence that our laws are consistently enforced and in good faith. And “One in Many” is not an account of a specific set of policies, because this I leave it to political leaders today. But the book, along with the George W. Bush Presidential Center, outlines principles for reform that may restore people’s confidence in an immigration system that serves both our values and our interests.
The law “Deferred Work Concerning Child Immigrants” should begin. Americans who prefer a path to citizenship for those who came here as children of the so-called “dreamers” do not defend open borders. They only realize that the men and women who grew up in the United States, and have never known anywhere else as their home country, are mainly Americans. And they should not be punished for a choice their parents made. There is also an opportunity to agree on boundaries. I have always said that we can be a law-abiding nation that is welcoming to expats at the same time. We want safe and efficient borders. To achieve this, all necessary resources, human capacity, physical barriers, advanced technology must be provided, and there must be smooth and efficient entry points and a vital system for legal immigration.
Effective border management begins beyond borders, so we must work with our neighbors to help them support freedom and opportunity so that their citizens can thrive in their own countries. And we cannot rely on law enforcement itself to prevent the heart-wrenching scenes that accompany large-scale migration. We also want a modern asylum system that provides humanitarian support and adequate legal channels for refugees to pursue their cases in a modern way. And the rules of asylum must be reformed in Congress to prevent entry to those who are not eligible and to reserve the status of vital cases for those who deserve it.
One option that both parties should support is promoting legal immigration that focuses on employment and skills. The United States is better off when talented people bring their ideas and aspirations here. We can also improve our temporary entry program so that seasonal and short-term jobs are easier to fill from guest workers who support our economy, support their families, and return home.
For the millions of undocumented men and women who currently live in the United States, pardoning them would not be fundamentally fair for those who came legally or are still waiting in their turn to become citizens. However, undocumented immigrants must be removed from this dark region through a gradual process by which every applicant obtains legal residency and citizenship. The conditions must include proof of work history, retroactive fines and taxes, proficiency in the English language, knowledge of American history, civil rights and duties, and a clean criminal record.
We must never forget that the desire to live in the United States represents a strong aspiration in the world as ever, and this represents support for our country and the principles we represent. For years, our wings have always tilted toward justice and generosity. The reward came in the form of generations of nation-loving, grateful, hard-working and self-reliant Americans who came here with their own choice. If we continue this tendency in the current debate, bipartisan reform is possible. We will see once again that immigration in and of itself is not a problem and a source of contention, but a great and distinctive source of wealth for the United States.
George Bush Jr. *
The forty-third president of the United States.
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