Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | April 24, 2006

No easy answers for immigration reform

“What’s called a difficult decision is a difficult decision because either way you go there are penalties.” ~ Elia Kazan

If an easy answer to the thorny problem of immigration reform existed, we’d have found it by now.

Instead, we seem to be polarizing around the opposite extremes of the issue: At the right, there’s the deport ‘em all and build a wall camp, and at the left, there’s the let ‘em stay and grant amnesty camp.

This issue creates interesting political bedfellows. Some on the left who lean toward amnesty for illegal immigrants dislike what amounts to corporate welfare that comes from businesses hiring workers with falsified documents. Some on the right who lean toward mass deportations are hesitant about alienating their allies in the business world who benefit from hiring cheap illegal labor.

I suspect a real solution is more complex than either pole wants to admit and lies somewhere in the middle.

I tend to move to the right when I consider the national security issues associated with illegal immigration. Although I believe that the vast majority of those who cross our borders illegally are simply looking for an opportunity to work hard to make better lives for their families, I worry that our sieve-like borders present an opportunity for those who would do harm to our country.

I tend to move to the left when I consider the human and financial cost associated with deporting nine to 20 million people – especially when I contemplate the rending of families, some of whom are American citizens by birth and some of whom were brought here illegally years ago by their parents.

When I consider the impact on the economy, I suspect that when viewed from a birds-eye level, cracking down on illegal immigration will be a wash. Hospitals might benefit from fewer uninsured patients, but farmers and others will be hurt if their supply of cheap labor diminishes. In the end, consumers might pay less for health care (if hospitals pass along the cost savings) but more for produce and construction projects.

I recently heard a representative of the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonpartisan think tank that researches immigration policy, talking on a news program about its proposal for “attrition through enforcement.” It has a lot of appeal, largely because it recognizes that the two extremes of debate on this issue present a false choice: mass deportation or amnesty. The thesis of attrition through enforcement is that consistent enforcement of existing immigration laws would reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the United States to a “manageable nuisance” level. Attrition through enforcement would not require draconian new laws or an expensive, ineffective wall that would be a potent negative symbol along the U.S.-Mexico border. It would not require legalizing the actions of people who broke U.S. law to enter this country.

If you’re interested in learning more about attrition through enforcement, visit the Center for Immigration Studies Web site at

While I believe attitrition through enforcement is an important step toward immigration reform, I suspect it’s not enough. Something must be done to reduce the economic incentives that drive so many people to risk so much to come to America. It’s in our best interest to encourage political reform and economic investment in the countries that are the source of most illegal immigration.

With recent news that national security officials were able to bring bomb components across both the Mexican and Canadian borders, it’s clear that this country’s borders must be tightened. It’s stunning that we haven’t taken giant steps in that direction nearly five years after the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, 2001.

But it’s also clear that illegal immigrants are human beings who are woven into the fabric of our society and that removing them en masse will have far-reaching, unpredictable and unintended impacts on our economy. Implementing one simple-minded solution espoused by either extreme on this issue will not have the desired effect and will have many unforeseen and unpleasant consequences.

I believe that a multi-pronged approach involving effective enforcement of current laws, creation of a workable guest-worker program, improvement of the economies of countries that provide the most illegal immigrants, and making stopping terrorism the top priority of our immigration efforts will yield the best results.

It won’t be easy or quick, but it must be done.

“The difficult is that which can be done immediately; the impossible that which takes a little longer.” ~ George Santayana



  1. The age-old pesky U.S.-Mexico border problem has taxed the resources of both countries, led to long lists of injustices, and appears to be heading only for worse troubles in the future. Guess what? The border problem can never be solved. Why? Because the border IS the problem! It’s time for a paradigm change.

    Never fear, a satisfying, comprehensive solution is within reach: the Megamerge Dissolution Solution. Simply dissolve the border along with the failed Mexican government, and megamerge the two countries under U.S. law, with mass free 2-way migration eventually equalizing the development and opportunities permanently, with justice and without racism, and without threatening U.S. sovereignty or basic principles.

    Click the url and read the details of the new paradigm for U.S.-Mexico relations.

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