The debate about what to do with those who have broken our immigration laws has been socially, politically, and culturally wrenching, and it has been going on for decades.
In 1997 Peter Salins wrote a well-regarded book, entitled Assimilation American Style. He worried about illegal migration's corrosive effect on American's support for large scale-legal immigration. And he noted (p.212), "almost all Americans favor stemming the tide of illegal immigration." However, he added, "Unfortunately, no one knows how to go about doing it."
We now know exactly how to do it, if we can maintain the political will to do so. Make checking the legal status of all workers mandatory through a refined E-Verify system. Institute an entry-exit tracking system at our nations' ports, airports, and land crossings, coupled with a determination to ensure expedited removal, and additional penalties, for violations. Ensure that those found entering the country illegally between border entry points, are put into a database, immediately deported and barred from legal entry for at least a decade.
Still assuming that the political will, as evidenced by passing serious enforcement legislation, exists we are still left with the question of what to do with the estimated 11.7 million illegal aliens now living in this country.
Advocates of legalization argue that 11.7 million people can't be "rounded up" and deported. They have a point, but not the one they are making. Of course any "roundup" of 11.7 million people would be logistically difficult, if not impossible, but that is not the primary reason it's a bad idea and would never happen.
It will never happen because it would never have public support. Any mass "roundup" would violate both American' identity, their own sense of who they are as a people, and Americans' character. Americans are an open and generous people, disinclined toward hard/harsh measures. Americans would not be able to tolerate the repeated spectacle of weeping families being turn apart, children grasping at the shirttails or dresses of their parents, and families being pulled from church sanctuaries.
Moreover, some political leaders, including the president and some of his close advisors, have made clear they don't think of illegal migration as much more serious that jaywalking. The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, recently added her name to that long list by saying, "If somebody is here without sufficient documentation, that is not reason for deportation."
In making such statements and narrowing and limiting the basis of immigration enforcement, they encourage the very behavior they publically say they leading the "reform" fight against.
The same is true of all those mayors who have made clear their cities won't enforce our immigration laws or cooperate with those that do. And it is true of every civic, business, political, and cultural leader who refuses to draw a distinction between illegal migration and legal immigration and offers financial and political rewards to both groups without distinction.
As a result of their rhetorical and legislative behavior, the moral claims of immigration enforcement and fairness have been compromised.