Jeb Bush pushes for ‘welcoming,’ assimilating, educating immigrants

Jeb Bush calls for a more "welcoming" attitude toward immigrants.

I’m about 60 percent convinced Jeb Bush is running for president in 2012. The following op-ed piece is one reason why. In the op-ed, published in Saturday’s Washington Post and co-authored by a professor from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Bush starts by reading back some of the country’s difficult history with immigration, dating back to the 18th Century, when German-speakers were so numerous in some parts of the country, and so unassimilated, laws were passed barring them from using their native language in public (sound familiar?) He and Prof. Robert Putnam then go on to make a series of recommendations:

… A legal immigration system is the not-so-secret edge in a competitive, interconnected world economy. Immigrants enhance our ability to grow and prosper in the dynamic global marketplace. We will need every possible advantage to expand our economy amid its fiscal challenges. Moreover, the aging of our population places a premium on young, productive workers, many of whom must come from immigration.

To improve their integration into our American community, we should:

– Provide low-cost English classes, in cooperation with local civic and religious groups, where immigrants build personal ties with co-ethnics and native-born Americans. These connections foster assimilation and help newcomers navigate our complex institutions.

– Invest in public education, including civics education and higher education. During the first half of the 20th century, schools were critical to preparing children of immigrants for success and fostering a shared national identity.

– Assist communities experiencing rapid increases in immigration, which is traumatic for those arriving here and for receiving communities. Schools and hospitals bear disproportionate costs of immigration, while the economic and fiscal benefits from immigration accrue nationally.

Of course, the irony in the recommendations is that when he was governor, Florida ranked near the bottom in both education spending and education quality, and Bush spent much of his governorship penny-pinching state spending for schools and even cutting funding for libraries and school media centers — you know, the places where the books and computers are? — with the enthusiastic help of the Republican-dominated legislature, to make room for more and ever-larger business tax cuts, fighting reductions in class size (he had a “devious plan” to kill it…) pushing for unconstitutional voucher programs to shoehorn public school students into private, religious schools, and turning the state’s public schools into test-taking factories, which just happened to benefit his brother financially (along with other friends.) Florida’s spending on its students’ K-12 education was so paltry, the state almost didn’t qualify to even apply for Race to the Top funding, and had to bump spending up just to make the cut. Go figure. Bush and friends spent much of this year figuring out a way to break Florida’s teachers unions and turn teachers into temporary workers, until Indie Charlie pulled the needle off the record … but I guess that’s a policy/ideological thing upon which the former governor and I will just have to disagree. Jeb does get credit for at least focusing on education, and in some areas, his “reforms” weren’t all bad.

Education issues aside, with this op-ed, and previous statements about Arizona’s “show me your papers” law, the younger Bush is again proving that he, of all the Bushes, is a thinker about policy (agree with him or not.) And once again, he’s putting himself, stylistically and in a policy sense, at the opposite end of the spectrum from Republicans who are screeching about immigrants being drug mules or mere human containers for teenie-tiny baby bombers. He’s playing the grown-up on an issue his brother even knew could ultimately break the Republican Party, as Hispanic immigrants increase their numbers, and turn away in horror at the GOP.

And it just happens that, as David Frum says (though I disagree with most of his premise), legal immigration is one of the ways America is managing to keep up with the 21st century job skills needed to remain competitive, since sadly, our public schools aren’t doing the job. (How can they, when so many are busy fighting about ideological nonsense, as in Texas, or going to war over teacher tenure.) Race to the Top offers an important opportunity to begin refocusing on getting more Americans a world-class education, and getting unions and school systems to reach accord on how best to get there, but even that funding just got cut … by the Democrats.

Go figure, indeed.

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