George W. Bush Cautions Against Nativism

It was not for want of presidential leadership that immigration reform failed to make it through Congress during the George W. Bush administration. President Bush clearly recognized that America’s immigration system had become dysfunctional, and needed substantial overhaul to make it run smoothly again – and he worked with both sides of the aisle to push a bipartisan reform bill that ultimately went down in defeat, at least in part due to “friendly fire” from anti-immigrant activists on his right flank.

To Bush’s great credit, his views on immigration remained remarkably pragmatic and cool-headed, even amidst the fulminations of his own party’s nativist element, who viewed anything other than purely punitive, enforcement-only legislation as “soft on illegal immigration.”

In a talk with college students, carried on a recent C-Span program, Former President Bush expressed concerns about the direction of American immigration policy, wondering aloud whether we might be headed back to the bad old days of the 1920s, when Congress set limits on immigration from certain parts of the world – especially Asia and southern and eastern Europe. (See George W. Bush Warns of Nativism, 1920s-Style Immigration Backlash, by Michael Scherer, Swampland blogs, 03.Feb.2011.) According to the Swampland blog of, Mr. Bush said:

There was an immigration policy during this period that I think argued during this period that we had too many Jews and too many Italians and therefore we should have no immigrants. And my point to you is we have been through this kind of period of isolationism, protectionism, nativism. I am a little concerned that we might be going through the same period. I hope that these isms pass, which would then allow for a more orderly look at immigration policy.

Now that Mr. Bush no longer has to worry about who might be upset if he speaks his mind, he’s free to speak the truth as he sees it. At a time when the national immigration debate has taken a pronounced xenophobic turn, Former President Bush’s warning is nothing if not timely, certainly well worth heeding. One hopes his warning, and his stature among the party faithful, will give political cover to his colleagues in the GOP – especially in the House and Senate – to return to the table and hash out a bipartisan immigration reform bill.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.