Congress rejected the deal by which an Arab company would have taken over licenses to run port terminals in the United States. Having stymied that perceived incursion on American sovereignty, the same citizen representatives are now turning their attention to the problem of controlling the stream of humanity crossing America's southern border.
"No way!" came the bi-partisan cry over the ports deal. Amply assisted by the public's knee-jerk reaction to the proposed operation of docks in the U.S. by Dubai Ports World, lawmakers of all stripes went ballistic. To permit Dubai Ports, owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, to operate on American soil was cast as giving Osama bin Laden a free pass. Opponents asserted such a move would put the country, post 9/11, at greater risk of terroristic catastrophe. Amid the heat, DPW cancelled the deal.
"Build a wall! Militarize the border! Send the 'illegals' back! Punish the aiders and abetters! Enforcement! Enforcement!" Once again the majority's knees are a-jerking. In response, politicians looking to keep their jobs are coalescing around rejection of any move that smacks of amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants, most of who hail from south of the U.S. border, many from Mexico. They do the essential work Americans won't.
The repercussions of rejecting the DPW deal have yet to be fully felt. Bush rightly says it will harm America's standing with Islamic nations and likely impair his commitment to combat terrorist intentions. It mattered not that the UAE is more closely involved with America than any other Islamic nation. It hosts Pentagon command centers and services more US naval vessels than any other country outside America. Why, even if two of the guys involved in 9/11 bore UAE passports, would Congress jeopardize such a productive alliance? Many more current terror suspects carry British passports.
To link Arab operation of U.S. docks to Al-Quaeda's murderous intentions is born of more of bigotry than sound policy. DPW would have had nothing, nothing to do with port security. That's the U.S. government's job. That it's not done well is hardly the UAE's fault. What might have been a constructive discussion about port security and the country's failure to inspect no more than 5 percent of all cargo containers entering U.S. ports turned into a xenophobic rant, leaving the world with the impression that Americans believe all Arabs are potential terrorists.
Similar incoherent prejudices are at work in the immigration debate. Those who would round up the undocumented and fortify hundreds of miles of border demand a halt to the northward flow of impoverished, brown-skinned people. There is pervasive, if largely unspoken, fear that these folks undermine the values that make America American. Absent a complete halt, immigration hard-liners see an America overrun, a country in which the majority language could become Spanish in just a few short years. Advocates of a crackdown see it as nothing less than their duty to save the country.
President Bush, among others, recognizes the inevitability of an immigrant surge seeking a better life. He and the constructively-minded appreciate the indispensable economic role these workers play. They wish to better define inclusion of immigrants as productive members of U.S. society all the while conceding that no system of immigration rules, especially one hinged on a line literally drawn in the sand, can be any thing but complicated and imperfect.
Whether rational immigration policy can emerge from such a cauldron of prejudices remains to be seen. If not, Bush, despite his good intentions on immigration policy, will not be without blame, just as he is not without responsibility for fostering attitudes that hardened around the DPW deal. When as president of its most powerful nation you speak of the world in terms of "them" and "us" and rely on fear-mongering about 'evil-doers' to generate political support for constitutionally questionable policies, isn't the surfacing of nationalism's ugly side to be expected?
By whipping up patriotic fervor to facilitate the invasion of Iraq, Bush unleashed a force, ever waiting in the wings of the American political theater, which confounded his sound judgment on the DPW deal and threatens to undo his courageous effort to make sense of immigration policy. As a result, Arabs, even the supportive ones, are ticked off. And, as if on a suicide mission, Republican designs to court the immigrant vote, especially in the western and southwestern states, is now dead before arrival.
Bush claims to recognize the dangers of government policy dictated by prejudicial impulses. But when the president has repeatedly played that very card to sustain his Iraq policy, then he, like his detractors, is as much a part of the problem as he is the solution.