The Republicans want a shooting war right now over immigration. That and gay marriage (and/or adoption) are their best chances to mobilize their base in November. Fortunately for us, we don't need to be in a shooting war over immigration, because there are a couple of fundamental principles on which just about everyone can agree. Beyond those principles is a debate that includes so many competing interests and so many difficult choices that it defies description in the kind of polarizing rhetoric that the Republicans seem to want to use.
Here's what I think we can agree on:
- We have to take border enforcement seriously. We're the wealthiest nation in the world, and if our borders are open a lot more people will be coming in than going out. We then are going to have to spend a lot of money providing for and dealing with these immigrants or spend a lot of money rounding them up and shipping them home. The question is how are we going to take it seriously—More guards? Sensors? A couple of walls? Stricter screening at ports and airports? Or is the way things are going now all right? But the choice is emphatically not between "let the invading hordes in" and "protect the homeland!"
- We have to take interior enforcement seriously. If we're going to have rules about who comes in and who doesn't, they ought to be enforced. I hear that there are 11 million illegal immigrants in the US. Is it good policy to drive them all home, underground, or into jails? What's the cost to our economy? What's the cost to individuals and families? Are some of them worth keeping even if their pathway into the country was illegal? These are tough issues with fuzzy answers. Again, the choice isn't polar.
The two sentences in bold are where I think we can all begin. The multi-faceted and challenging nature of everything else is what keeps immigration from being the new gay marriage. Nobody's against immigration law enforcement, and most interested groups agree that some things should change.
Republicans are beating this drum now to rally the base, but they're being driven into internal disagreement because the issue is complicated. The only way they make this work for them is if we get drawn into a cartoony Republicans vs. Democrats version of the debate. The idea that there is a Republican position here and a Democratic position is just false, and there's no reason to wish it were true (or to act like it is).
(This began as a comment to Anglico's post, but it got out of hand.)