In a sane world, immigration reform wouldn’t be a controversial issue. There is widespread agreement across most of the U.S. political spectrum that border security is important and people shouldn’t be allowed to enter the country illegally unless they have a durn good reason, such as fleeing oppression from a totalitarian regime.
There appears to be a small “open borders” movement, but I don’t think any elected official of any party is seriously talking about open borders, and I don’t know personally of any progressive activists pushing the idea. But I’ll come back to this in a minute.
I think anyone with a lick of sense and even half a clue about the drug wars in Mexico would agree that keeping the perpetrators south of the Rio Grande should be a priority.
Further, there is supposed to be widespread agreement that illegal workers reduce the value of labor, and employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants should get smacked. This may be the real sticking point, although those doing the sticking are pretending they aren’t. I’ll come back to this.
There is disagreement over what to do with illegal immigrants who already are here. At one extreme there are those who call for immediate deportation of all illegal immigrants, and sometimes even the children of illegal immigrants who were born here and are U.S. citizens. In the real world, this would suck up an unimaginable amount of funds and other resources and is not going to happen. But the next time you see someone calling for this approach, ask him if he minds getting his taxes jacked up to pay for it.
At the other extreme there is no extreme that I can see, but merely a desire to find a way to allow people who are already here and who are working and tax paying and law abiding and connected to families and communities to at least achieve legitimate documented status if not citizenship. This is not just being nice; it is a far more practical approach than rounding up and deporting people. Within those parameters there is some disagreement, but nothing that couldn’t be worked out through rational dialogue were such a thing possible in the U.S.
But the Right will never stand for this, because the Right can never get past the notion that “guilty” people must be punished, no exceptions, no matter the nature of the thing they are guilty of and whether the greater good might be served through leniency. (Think Les MisÃ©rables.) So the mass deportation idea is a gold mine for wingnut demagogues who want to fire up Teh Stupid and get them to the polls in November.
However, I suspect a large number of Republicans, never mind Democrats, in Congress don’t want to take on the issue of what to do about illegal immigrants already here in a mid-term year, because in truth they don’t want mass deportation even though they might pretend they do. And they don’t want a mass deportation bill to ever come up for a vote, because then they would be forced to take a firm public stand on the issue. They like to be able to bleat vague bromides at their wingnut constituents about deporting illegal immigrants, but they prefer to do so secure in the knowledge that it won’t ever happen.
It won’t ever happen because the dirty little secret is that a portion of the American economy depends on illegal labor. I wish that were otherwise, and I’d like to make it otherwise. But, for example, fruit and vegetable growers (who, note, tend to be in the South and West) say they can’t survive economically without illegal (e.g., just this side of “slave”) labor. There are other industries in a similar fix.
You know plenty of business owners are telling their Congress critters that immigration reform had better not take away their illegals. And you know plenty of Congress critters and their more well-heeled supporters hire illegal housekeepers and pool cleaners and nannies and really don’t want to change the status quo. They just don’t want to have to admit publicly that they don’t want to change it.
For the reasons given above, I suspect the “border security first” approach will prevail this year. I predict serious work on comprehensive reform will be pushed off to next year.
Even so, the Republican echo chamber (which is run by a goodly number of people who hire illegal immigrants, notice) is keeping Teh Stupid stirred up by framing the issue within a false dichotomy — that the issue is a choice between “secure borders” and “open borders.” It isn’t at all; there is no serious support in Washington for open borders that I can see. But by keeping Teh Stupid in the dark about the real issues, it’s easier to push off discussing the illegal-immigrants-already-here issue that Republicans really don’t want to discuss.