Legalizing "Acts of Love"

Statue of Liberty seen from the Circle Line ferry, Manhattan, New York


For several decades now, the issue of immigration reform has surfaced regularly. When it comes up, typically, it does so as a fiery controversy. But, in spite of all the attention the matter has received, there has been little progress towards settling it. One might say that, with this topic, there has been much heat and little light.

Former Governor and potential presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, set off another round of  heated  public debate on this topic with comments he made at a recent event, held at his father’s Presidential Library. On that occasion, he said:

“The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families — the dad who loved their children — was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love.”

Conservatives, who want to see a fully secured border prior to any implementation of broader immigration reform, were quick in their response to Bush’s comments. Leading the way was Senator and potential presidential candidate, Rand Paul. In his response, Senator Paul said:

“I think it wasn’t the most artful way of saying something, but I think he was well-intentioned. If I were to make the same point, I would say that people who seek the American dream are not bad people, but that doesn’t mean you can invite the whole world to come.But I think [Bush’s critics question], if love is the criteria, what does that mean? [Does that mean] everybody who’s got some love for their relatives can come? You know, the whole world loves America, and they can’t all come. It is important to have a healthy respect for immigrants when engaging in the debate over immigration policy.They come to this country and they’re not bad people. But we have to start with the first part then that the border can’t be open, and everything that’s offered to American citizens can’t just be offered to the world. We have this enormous welfare state that we can’t pay for on our own, so we can’t invite the world to be on it.”


I agree with Senator Paul, that Governor Bush’s comments were well-intentioned. And, whether or not it was an “artful way” of expressing his sentiments, I’d like to see that sort of caring as an obvious part of a whole solution for immigration reform. It’s been about 35 years since I first traveled from where I lived in Southern California, to visit Baja California and I still vividly recall seeing communities of homes constructed from appliance boxes and other similar materials lining the Mexican side of the U.S./Mexico border. My immediate thought, at that time, remains yet today … “If those were my circumstances, I’d be doing whatever it takes to get across that border.”

Although both Bush and Paul spoke kindly of immigrants, neither of them offered practical solutions for the immigration challenges the U.S. has been facing for the past several decades. In Paul’s case, he mostly talked about what we can’t do. However, in replying to his critics, I think Bush pointed the conversation in a more productive direction when he said,

“To be young and dynamic again we have to be young and dynamic again. [People need to view] immigration reform not as a problem, but as a huge opportunity.”

Though I, generally, agree with that, I think that Bush may have gone from what “wasn’t the most artful way of saying something” to saying it in a way that is too “artful”. I’d put it more simply by saying, “On this issue, we need to move from the ‘can’t-do attitude’ of people like Rand Paul to a ‘can-do attitude’ that incorporates the caring demonstrated by Bush.”