Should House Republicans accede to the demands of immigration activists, the Democratic Party, the president, and those members of their own party who firmly believe that almost any deal is better than none, they will have done the country a great disservice.
At the same time, those who care deeply about this country, must be willing to take difficult steps to right the country's immigration impasse without allowing it to be set up for another deeply divisive immigration debate that mirrors the present one.
It can be done, and the basis for doing so is at hand: real immigration enforcement – at our borders, at entry and exit points, in the workplace, and in our country more generally – coupled with offers of eventual legal status after these individuals have submitted all the information and evidence necessary to make a fair and accurate assessment, and finally a differential program of legalization – one for those brought here as children who would be offered a pathway to citizenship, and those who came here as adults who would be offered legal status but not citizenship.
The linchpin of any real immigration reform is the recognition that illegal immigration matters – to Americans, for the rule of law, for America's civic culture, for the trust between our government and national community, and for immigrants themselves.
Therefore, the moral and public interest claims of immigration enforcement and fairness are the bedrock of any real immigration reform. Those claims will have to be revitalized by being taken seriously if this country is to avoid a repeat of our current immigration morass.
And it is avoiding a repeat of our current circumstances that is the public-interest basis for even considering the legalization for any members of the currently estimated 11.7 million illegal aliens.
There is no escaping the fact that legalization provides substantial benefits – legal status to live and work in the United States, with all of the myriad benefits that entails – to those who have broken the law. It is therefore a difficult irony that in any legalization of adult offenders, illegal migrants will have successfully broken the laws and been given the very rewards the laws they broke were meant to forestall.
Sympathy for their plight, the "better lives" argument, is not a sufficient basis for considering any legalization. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide wish a "better-life" and we cannot therefore consider that the primary basis for offering legal status.
The impossibility of any real massive round-up and deportation makes that option mute. Its primary use these days is as a talking point and foil for those arguing that the only alternative is broad legalization of as many illegal migrants as possible, coupled with raising legal immigration levels to unprecedented levels, so that most of those abroad who want to move to the United States can do so legally.
This is worse than a dead end; it is a massive and avoidable blunder of epic proportions.
There is, however, a public-interest, real immigration reform alternative.