Immigration reform is a pipe dream
Even though everyone agrees that illegal immigration is an important issue, the problem is unsolvable, considering the fragmentation of opinion in the public, among policymakers and the immediate stakeholders.
First, the mood of the public is not amenable to negotiation on the issue. Recent polls indicate that half of the people favor the law in Arizona that encourages law enforcement personnel to ask about legal status in an arrest when there is reason to believe that the person is in the United States illegally. It is obvious that the public mood is more inclined toward getting tough than getting generous.
Second, the issue is a political standoff between a majority of the Republicans and a majority of the Democrats. The Democrats are soft-pedaling (“stonewalling” would be a better word) the issue because a large majority of the Hispanics voted for Obama in the last election. Noting the mushrooming Hispanic population, Democrats are looking forward to keeping Hispanics in their electoral base.
But Republican strategists also want to get a share of this electoral bonanza so they won’t come right out and define a clear position on illegal immigration. To stop any liberalization of immigration rules, however, they use a term that stops negotiations – amnesty. It is an intimidating word because it sounds like a reward for breaking the law when the legitimate immigrants labor through five years before they can be granted citizenship. Republicans will brand any concessions to illegal immigrants as amnesty.
However, all is not peace and harmony in Republican circles. A considerable number of businessmen, most of whom are Republicans, need the illegal immigrants to work their fields, clean their hotels, and perform scores of other jobs that locals refuse to consider. These Republicans would favor a more lenient process to get the workers they need.
Then there is the underground railroad consisting Mexican-American citizens of who are co-conspirators in the evasion of the immigrant laws. You can bet that our Hispanic citizens are protecting and hiding their Mexican friends and relatives from the law. Not only that, they are the ones leading marches in the streets, lobbying for liberalization of immigration laws, and protesting any government action to curb immigration. They are fighting for a cheap pass into the country.
The Catholic hierarchy is somewhere in this mix because the vast majority of illegal immigrants are Catholic. The hierarchy is not in the front line of the debate but it is usually ready with an influential word when one is appropriate. Here again there is division. Many of the rank-and-file Catholics are not in agreement with the leadership on this issue. Their grandparents were required to go through the legal process and they feel that the integrity of the system ought to be preserved, regardless of who is involved.
Finally, we come to the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country. Any reform legislation would certainly require all 11 million to identify themselves. If they wouldn’t come out for a harmless U. S. Census headcount, neither will they risk deportation by showing their faces under new legislation. Only blanket citizenship for everyone would allay their fears. That would be amnesty, pure and simple.
Under our system of government, nothing can be done until massive consensus exists. Right now, there isn’t any.
It is obvious that the opinions of the public, the policymakers and the stakeholders are too divergent for reform to happen. The only reform in sight is longer and higher walls on the border and there isn’t even much consensus on that or it would be happening with more vigor.
Omdahl is a UND professor emeritus in political science and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.