Recent Developments Fail to Bring Closure to Immigration Debate

As a matter of neutral analysis, illegal immigration is a tremendous problem facing America. However, the topic of illegal immigration in the US is so fraught with emotion that it is difficult to get the respective sides of the debate to even agree on what the 'problem' is. Is it a problem with the rule of law? Is it a labor supply and demand problem? Is it a pure and simple compassion problem? Some people don't even believe that the problem, whatever it might be, requires addressing. However the fact of the matter is that wherever one stands on illegal immigration, the current state of affairs is unsustainable in the long run.

Every potential solution on the continuum from mass deportation to immediate amnesty has costs and benefits associated with it. Illegals utilize resources and some percentage of illegals, however small, are responsible for crimes and social problems. One the other hand, they are also critical to the functioning of the economy as we know it. By definition they are lawbreakers. They are also human beings often fleeing from horrific situations and circumstances. These are not statements of judgment, they are statements of fact. And they are the facts of life Americans deal with daily under the current, uncertain regime of federal immigration enforcement.

Perhaps the supercharged nature of the public debate on immigration is the reason why some national politicians seem to avoid the topic like the plague. Others may pay lip service to changes, but in all cases, things never seem to progress much further than that. On the other hand, though the federal legislature clearly doesn't have such a result in mind when it avoids illegal immigration, it is clear that its inaction has led to local governments giving various strategies a chance. Many of these strategies are in themselves controversial. However, they also reflect the experiences and desires of the states where they have been passed.

On one end of the spectrum would be tough stances on illegal immigration, probably most notoriously exhibited by Arizona. The border state, finally tired of being used as a highway for drug smugglers, decided to tighten the borders with or, as it turned out, without, the help of the federal government. Though Arizona lawmakers received serious pushback from both the federal government and immigration advocates around the country, their anti-illegal immigration legislation was well-received by locals. It is also worth noting that the language of the legislation itself did not make anything illegal that wasn't already illegal under US federal law. However, under immense political pressure the law was nonetheless defanged by way of a court injunction.

On the other end of the spectrum would legislation such as so-called Dream Acts. Though the meat of each bill under this broad umbrella is predictably different state by state, Dream Acts typically provide a path to citizenship for those who immigrated as minors with some combination of time, education and sometimes military service qualifying individuals for citizenship. Under the recently passed California version, it affords in-state tuition benefits to illegal immigrants. Though all of these bills, including several failed federal-level versions, are controversial, the most oft-cited issues with them seem to be that they take opportunities away from legal residents, that they drain resources and that they encourage future immigrants to flout existing laws.

There are other proposals flowing through the national conversation as well, some more or less pro- or anti-illegal immigration. However nothing about these conversations, nothing local politicians and legislatures do will solve the problem. It will take federal action, and not just blocking laws or implicitly blessing them that will end the debate. A complete immigration policy reform overhaul at a national level is the only thing that will put the issue to rest. Such an overhaul will take earnest discussion and frank dialog with both sides acknowledging that compromises will be required. Assuming that is true, it would unfortunately seem that the illlegal immigration problem remains far from being solved.

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