Both President Barack Obama and GOP hopeful Mitt Romney have spoken on the stump of the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
The heart of the issue has less to do with immigration than it does the legal status of those 12 million or more who have already arrived, and stayed, without benefit of an invitation, documentation or an intention of returning to their country of origin.
As you would expect, each candidate has a different opinion as to what that reform might look like. They agree, however, that any plan must have significant bipartisan support to pass muster.
Despite the popularity in some circles of the president's order "delaying" deportation of some illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. at a young age, we would add that real reform can't be accomplished through extralegal measures taken by the executive branch.
Republicans in Congress generally haven't been interested in immigration reform plans that include anything that seems like amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the country. Democrats see a guestworker program as an unacceptable half-step that, once passed, would scuttle their attempts to put those here on a path to citizenship. Like so many problems, instead of a workable solution Congress has reached an impasse.
That partisans on the right and the left have opposite and equally intractable positions is not surprising. The American people are of many and contradictory minds when it comes to illegal immigration. It is a complex issue that touches so many aspects of our public, economic and social policies and institutions that it defies simple solutions.
Stalwarts who demand harsh measures must accept that, as a practical matter, the United States is not going to repatriate by force millions of illegal immigrants. That goal might be accomplished by making it more difficult for all but legal residents to find employment, but the social and economic costs would be considerable.
Those pushing for amnesty must accept that many Americans have no objection to immigration per se, but do oppose a free pass to those who have defied U.S. law. They will not support any program that fails to impose upon illegal immigrants some penalty in exchange for legal status.
On several occasions we have proposed a plan that would offer legal status, and an eventual path to citizenship, for illegal immigrants who pay a hefty fine, meet strict educational requirements that include becoming proficient in English, have a clean criminal history, and remain employed for 10 years. We believe a workable temporary worker visa program must be enacted, and the border must be secured.
Whether any of this is accomplished by one omnibus reform bill, or several more palatable, bite-sized measures is unimportant. The status quo cannot stand.
It's not good for employers who depend on immigrants, legal or otherwise, to operate their businesses. It's not good for unemployed Americans who believe these illegal workers are selling their labor cheap to the detriment of citizens and legal residents. And it's not good for the illegal immigrants who are, for better or worse, vital to sectors of the agriculture, hospitality and construction industries.