There's a great push on right now to control illegal immigration in the United States. All sorts of groups have their own special reasons for wanting the population of illegals removed and stronger barriers placed in the way of their return. Some of these reasons make sense and others do not. Many of those who are most outspoken are irrational and acting on beliefs which can only be described as racist and others are acting out of pure self-interest.
There are two undeniable truths about our current immigration 'crisis'. First, that we need immigrant labor here in some form, because our economy demands it. Second, that it would be better for everyone if that immigrant population were legal rather than illegal with all the problems which that status creates for the nation and for the illegal immigrants.
Right now the Congress is considering an immigration reform bill which attempts to address the concerns of every possible concerned group. Whether it really addresses the nation's needs is open to debate, but the basic approaches to dealing with the problem of illegal immigration are fairly clear.
There are basically three ways to prevent illegal immigration: border enforcement, internal security and immigration management.
For effective border enforcement you round up every illegal (which would require multiple phases of roundups), put them in internment camps (hundreds of them), build a giant wall the entire length of the border with guard posts, electronic security and maybe even mine fields and then return the illegals to Mexico. If they try to come back you kill them (we're serious about immigration reform, right?). This approach would be inconceivably expensive, would leave us with a labor shortage which would lead to inflation, and would make us very unpopular internationally. But it would probably work.
To deal with illegal immigration through internal security you need to track your legal population. You give every legal citizen an official ID card which can be tracked electronically, contains biometric information, and cannot be forged. You then require that the card be presented to employers and government agencies and perhaps even in stores when making a purchase. Businesses would be required to report anyone who didn't have a proper ID card and hit with serious penalties if they did not comply.
You would also make it illegal to employ or even provide goods or services to anyone without a proper government ID. This approach would also be incredibly expensive, not just for the government and taxpayers, but for every business doing the enforcement grunt work for the governmenment and having to deal with massive paperwork and inconvenience.
You'd produce results with this approach but you'd still get a labor shortage and the attendant inflation. Most seriously of all, getting rid of illegals under this sort of system would lead to massive intrusion into the private lives and acitivities of the citizens and open the door to tracking their every activity. It would probably also lead to a huge growth in the underground economy, with some businesses going underground to employ illegals and provide them with services if it were profitable enough. This would create an environment where illegals would be open to greater abuse and exploitation, not to mention a real boom environment for organized crime.
The alternative to these two approaches is immigration management. This requires acceptance of the facts that we need low wage workers in the US and that Mexicans need better paying jobs. It also means putting aside racism and nativism and embracing our nation's tradition of accepting immigrants.
Basically there are two kinds of illegals in the country right now, those who want to live here permanently and those who come here on a short-term basis to work and earn money and send it back to Mexico. The latter group makes up about 80% of the population of illegals. This solution would include a path to citizenship for as many as five million immigrants over a period of several years, perhaps a quota of a million new potential immigrants a year. It would also include a guest worker program providing visas for at least eight million guest workers which could be renewed up to 12 times (on average illegals work for eight years before returning to Mexico).
This solution is based on the principle that if a law is being violated on a massive level and is not a law which protects basic rights like life, liberty, and property, then the law is the problem, not the violations or the violators. The fault does not lie with the illegals, but with bad immigration law which doesn't address the needs of the nation or the people of the US and Mexico. So you make it easy for illegals to come here and work under the conditions which they want – which for most of them includes going home to Mexico eventually. The cost to taxpayers would be low. Turning illegals into guest workers would reduce crime and increase wages. The policy would also benefit the Mexican economy with the eventual result that as economic conditions improve there then the number of Mexicans wanting to come to the US would decline. It could even go hand in hand with efforts to help push Mexico in the direction of economic and political reforms which would make their workers want to stay there.
All three of these solutions to the illegal immigration problem would likely work, though none of them is going to satisfy everyone and they all have costs of some sort associated with them, be it in taxpayer funds or in sacrificing some political or ideological sacred cows. The key thing about all three of these immigration policies is that they are comprehensive. They need to be implemented completely in order to work.
It seems clear that border control is too expensive and too impractical and that the cost of controlling illegal immigration through internal security, paid in the loss of rights and privacy, is much too high. The option of controlling immigration through rational management of who comes here and how long they can stay seems like the most viable of these solutions. We need to face up to the fact that the presence of illegals here in the US is a sign of the failure of our laws to meet our nation's needs and the needs of Mexican workers, and that it is the laws which need to be fixed, not the workers who need to be punished.
They only want to live a better life, and our unnecessarily restrictive immigration laws are at fault for not recognizing their needs and our nation's needs and doing something to address them legally. It is a failing of our government and our society that we have provided no alternative to illegal immigration and have let this problem get as bad as it has, and it's past time to address it properly.
Once and for all, let's put the mindless rhetoric of nativism aside. These Mexican immigrants are not terrorists and they are not criminals in any but the most technical sense. They are not anti-American – they're coming here to BE Americans. They don't want to change our society, they want to change their lives and want desperately to learn English so they can advance themselves. They aren't joining Mecha or La Raza – those groups have tiny memberships made up mostly of long-term legal residents. They don't cost us jobs or lower wages – studies show wages increasing and unemployment decreasing in areas where illegals are most common. They're no more diseased than citizens and they don't carry the plague of international socialism either. They're demonstrating the wisdom to get out of a country which is afflicted with all manner of social and political problems and come here instead.
We could limit immigration most effectively and do the least with a simple guest worker program which lets Mexicans come to the US to work and eventually go back to Mexico without having to do it illegally. Keep good track of them so we can make sure they leave when they're supposed to. Leave a door open for a reasonable number of them to become citizens. If they can work legally without becoming citizens, most of them will take that route. Then we should encourage more trade and business development in Mexico and insist on government and economic reforms there, so that eventually Mexicans will find it in their interest to stay home and work there.