A lot has been said recently of Jeb Bush’s “compassionate” conservatism with regard to unauthorized migrants. Rejecting the idea that the unauthorized are felons,* Bush explains that immigrants who come to the US “illegally” do so as an “act of love.” He explains,
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.
Well, kudos to Bush for remembering that unauthorized migrants are human beings too. No, seriously: I mean it. It’s not like many Republican politicos can claim the moral high ground here, what with ardent nativists like Steve King calling for the immediate and unconditional removal of everyone with brownish skin. Ok – that last bit may be a slight exaggeration, but I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised.
Anyway, to get back to my point. Notice how this language of love entirely obscures the structural causes of unauthorized migration, not to mention the political causes of unauthorized status. By characterizing unauthorized migration as about “love,” rather than as, say, about political and economic instabilities that have been fomented by neoliberalism and corporate capitalism, or even about US immigration policies that arbitrarily limit authorized migration as a way to maintain contingent and vulnerable labor, Bush has turned the exploitation of desperate unauthorized migrant bodies into a love story. Aww, how sweet.
* Oh, and by the way? Let’s not forget that unauthorized entrants who are caught entering the US after a previous removal can be charged with a felony, thanks to 8 U.S.C. § 1326, which means heightened criminal and civil penalties – including jail time and bars on future authorized entry. So, yeah, that’s one way to downplay the US government’s heightened enforcement of unauthorized immigrants, thereby fueling the asinine ravings of know-nothing nativists who think that our country positively rolls out the red carpet for such immigrants.