Jeb Bush was the subject of a fair amount of criticism from conservatives (including me) for his flaky comments about immigration back last spring, when he labelled illegal immigration (and that specifically from Mexico/Central America — illegal border-crossers rather than visa overstayers) “an act of love.” I griped at the time that politicians were practically canonizing illegal immigrants, as these wonderfully hard workers dedicated to their families.
Now he’s in the news again, or rather in the “news” via a CNN article recapping his past comments on immigration.
And here’s what he proposed for the city of Detroit, via some comments at a forum in 2013:
He even suggested the mayor of Detroit — the economically depressed Midwestern city where he’s giving his first policy address of the 2016 campaign on Wednesday — use immigration to “repopulate” the city.
“It just seems to me that maybe if you open up our doors in a fair way and unleashed the spirit of peoples’ hard work, Detroit could become in really short order, one of the great American cities again,” Bush said then. “Now it would look different, it wouldn’t be Polish…But it would be just as powerful, just as exciting, just as dynamic. And that’s what immigration does and to be fearful of this, it just seems bizarre to me.”
Now, I’d read this before, and from what I can tell, he’s never fleshed this out. Does he envision a program in which immigrants are restricted to living and working inside the city of Detroit? For how long? Indefinitely, in a second-class-citizen sort of way? And is he simply clueless about the situation in Detroit?
Detroit is becoming depopulated, that’s true; the current (2010 census) population is less than 700,000, a far cry from the 1 million of 1990 (though even then, that figure took a concerted effort to ensure that the population was fully counted — too much was at stake, both in terms of city pride and special Michigan legislation for “cities of over a million people”), not to mention the 1.5 million of 1970 or 1.8 million of 1950. (See wikipedia’s entry.)
And Detroit has welcomed immigrants, though it’s far from a draw, with the exception of the Arabs, who’ve mostly gravitated toward suburban Dearborn. You want hard-working immigrants? Other cities may have Koreans, but in Detroit, it’s the Chaldeans who run the party stores (small grocery/convenience stores), and there’s the usual mix of conflict and support when it comes to their interaction with the local community.
When it comes down to it though, it’s fundamentally insulting to the people of Detroit to say that what the city needs is an infusion of “hard working people.”
There are lots of causes for Detroit’s troubles, and reasons why it can’t manage to recover from them. The dependence on the auto industry, and its inability to diversify when the Big Three lost their dominance. The power of the unions and/or the intrenched lack of forward-thinkingness on the part of management. The corrupt governance of Coleman Young and his successors causing, first, white flight, and, afterwards, middle-class flight. Persistent attempts to fix the situation via big construction projects. A death spiral in which the city became ever more disproportionately populated by people with few skills and little education, because people who can leave, do.
At the same time, though, there are many Detroiters who are doing their best, given their circumstances. One of my facebook friends, who grew up in the city, links to articles featuring these sorts of people. (See my piece from last November.) Take the aquarium: closed down for lack of funds, and now forced to compete with the for-profit Sea Life in the far north suburbs, it was reopened solely due to the efforts of a fund-raising citizenry and is staffed by volunteers.
And look again at Bush’s comment: to label the city as “Polish” is just bizarre — the city is 83% black and a mere 8% “non-Hispanic white.” Surely Jeb knows that!
Which means this: was he intentionally playing dumb here? It doesn’t take too many leaps to go to think that, when it comes down to it, he wants to swap out blacks for Mexicans, because he believes that blacks simply don’t have what it takes to work hard and rebuild the city, and don’t have that moral superiority, that work ethic, that marvelous love of family contained in the noble Mexican/Central American immigrant.