One of the most overused and hackneyed phases in the present immigration debate is: "The system is broken." The metaphor is meant to convey the immigration system is important, that its major elements are dysfunctional, and that therefore the system must be fixed. QED.
It follows from this logic that all the major elements must be fixed and this requires comprehensive reform, or so it is argued.
The only problem with this view is that each interest group has its own definition of what a major element is. Unions want more immigrant members; so do evangelists. High-tech companies want more STEM-trained immigrants; labor-intensive businesses like the hotel and building trade industries want more unskilled immigrant labor. Agricultural business would also like to have a reliable supply of seasonal workers. Hispanics want their illegal alien spouses, children, brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, aunts, and uncles legalized. And the Democratic Party would like to have a reliable group of supporters added to its electoral base.
Each of these special interest desires may be a major element in the immigration debate, but they are by no means critical or essential. Moreover, if they are legitimate needs to be addressed by immigration policies, they can be dealt with singularly.
The country might benefit from more union or church members, but there are other ways of reaching goals. Requiring our immigration system to provide union or church members is a misuse of immigration policy.
Similarly, it is quite understandable that many in groups that have the largest numbers of illegal aliens would like to have all of their brethren legalized. However, this is neither fair nor legitimate. These persons are asking for special treatment for their group members. That sets an awful cultural and political precedent and runs counter to the deeply ingrained American ideal of equal treatment.
As to more low-skilled workers, it is unclear why the 1 million-plus new legal immigrants coming into the country every year, many of them with low educational and skill levels, cannot provide the needed workers.
Need more high-tech workers? Not so fast. A major study by Georgetown and Rutgers University professors suggests otherwise. In the words of one press account, the problem is that "U.S. colleges and universities are graduating as many scientists and engineers as ever, according to a study released on Oct. 28 by a group of academics. But that finding comes with a big caveat: Many of the highest-performing students are choosing careers in other fields." Perhaps more incentives might do the trick rather than calling on our immigration system to supply immigrants grateful for any chance to live and work here.
Are more seasonal agricultural workers needed for non-mechanized, hard farm labor? Yes? Okay; it shouldn't be too hard to bring in such workers on a repeated seasonal basis, pay them a good wage, and insist on decent working and living conditions. It doesn't take a comprehensive immigration bill like the Senate's 1,000-plus page bill to do that.
In short, the major elements that are repeatedly said to be "broken" aren't really. Some of them are not broken at all, and some of them need adjusting, but that doesn't require a 1,000-page bill that few have really read and really understand to do it.
But there is one core, crucial element of American immigration policy that is broken and absolutely needs to be fixed: Enforcement.