DURING THE CONTROVERSY over Linda Chavezs appointment as secretary of labor, President Bush squandered an excellent opportunity to show some compassionate conservatism toward the tens of thousands of undocumented workers who have risked their lives to live and work in the United States.
In the 1960s, I grew up on a farm on the Rio Grande outside of Laredo, Texas, where we hired and housed Mexican illegal aliens. They were among the hardest-working people Ive ever encountered. They were also religious, and they had strong family values. We worked, ate, and played together, and I counted them among my friends. Among my fondest memories is helping them hide from the Border Patrol.
Hiring illegal workers from Mexico was common on the border. Many middle-class families had a maid, who often became an integral part of the family, playing an important role in the upbringing of the children.
Both employer and employee profited. The workers received more money than they could have in Mexico. The employers benefited from the hard work and loyalty that Mexican workers traditionally displayed.
The only exploitation came from immigration laws. Whenever a maid became displeased with one job and moved to another, she faced the risk that the disgruntled housewife whose employment she had left would report the maids new address to immigration officials.
One day, I asked the local sheriff whether my cousin and I could hold a Christmas show for the illegal aliens who were incarcerated in the local detention center. He agreed.
On the appointed day, we appeared at the center, where about 150 undocumented workers were seated before a makeshift stage and a microphone.
My cousin began strumming his guitar and singing some classic Mexican songs, such as Cielito Lindo. (Both of us were fluent in Spanish.) After a while, he announced that he needed a break and handed the microphone to me. I said to the men:
Despite the fact that you are here in jail, do not ever think that you are criminals, because you are not. For you have done nothing morally wrong. All that you have done is what God expects of you to sustain and improve your life and the lives of your families through labor. Why shouldnt a person be free to cross a border to do that? The true criminals are the federal judges, the federal marshals, and the immigration officials who put you here and the guards who keep you here.
It was not difficult to see that we had brought some unexpected cheer into the lives of men who were spending Christmas in jail for the crime of simply crossing a border in search of work.
President Bush may have been justifiably upset over Chavezs lack of forthrightness, but he could have overlooked that and used the opportunity to take a stand against the punishing of Americans who hire or harbor illegal aliens. He could have called for the repeal of these immoral laws and announced pardons for everyone who had violated them.
He could have taken a stand in favor of the free market, liberty of association and contract, the Statue of Liberty, the Sermon on the Mount, and Gods second-greatest commandment.
Instead, President Bush stood quietly aside in the midst of the political storm. So much for compassionate conservatism.