It's been a while, hasn't it? I'd like to talk about immigration policy in the United States, specifically the legislation which was recently rejected in Congress twice in the past two months.
First let's explore some of the principles underlying the issue. "We are a country of immigrants," is a commonly-heard phrase, but what does it really mean? At the simplest level, it means that the vast majority of the people living in America today can trace most of their ancestors from Europe and elsewhere, arriving after the 1500s. We're all familiar with the Jamestown colony and the Pilgrims, and all the waves of immigration since then. Every new wave of immigration was seen very similarly by those already established here. They were cast with suspicion, there were fears that they are taking "our" jobs, that they weren't assimilating. Thus, it is argued, we or our ancestors were subject to these same irrational fears at one point, and they eventually assimilated quite well. On the whole this is true; over several generations, assimilation has tended to occur.
There is certainly a small subset of Americans who are anti-immigrant and harbor these fears and prejudices, but that isn't the major reason that some people are against illegal immigration. Another phrase often used is "no one is illegal." This is supposed to strike an empathetic note, emphasizing how people who come live in the United States illegally are doing so because they're experiencing hardship in Mexico and are trying to improve their lives coming to America. It's sad that they are having this hardship, and it is commendable that they are trying to improve their lives by coming here. But lets consider this line of thinking... does everyone facing oppression and hardship have some right to come live in the U.S.? Any realist would have to admit that there are far more impoverished, starving, downtrodden masses (and there are people in the world facing much more hardship than those entering the country illegally) in the world than our country could accommodate, and if we even attempted to make an open invitation, the standard of living for everyone would drop precipitously, and there would soon be no more American Dream to reach for. As a practical matter, it would be impossible to allow everyone to come in if they wanted to. There is no inherent right for any person or group of people to pursue the 'American Dream'.
The United States of America is an entity containing a society, defined territory, resources, and a sovereign government. The government exists to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity" (Preamble, U.S. Constitution), and it thus has a vested interest in monitoring and controlling the flow of people into the country. There are population vs. resources considerations (as noted above) and health and medical considerations, as well as security interests, among other things.
I agree with immigration in general: it's vital and in keeping with our national ideals. However, it becomes a problem when some would-be immigrants circumvent the legal, official immigration process and they aren't being caught and deported. The first problem with this is that we lose control over how many people are coming into the country and who they are. Second, we discourage and frustrate all the people who are patiently wading through the legal channel. Third, those that get through illegally are forced to stay underground and are subject to extortion and more hardship.
Currently there are two immigration paths. You can go through the legal process and enter American society as just another person, or you can try to cross the border illegally (sometimes almost killing yourself via smugglers) and taking day-labor jobs that pay far below the poverty level until you're caught or you die.
The first step to dealing with the problem is to shut off the second path. The border must be secured. Granted, this would be much easier if we weren't spending $144 billion/year in Iraq (Thanks Bush!), but it must be done. Why? Well, no matter what path you would choose to take to deal with the immigrants already here, it's much easier to do if you bring the rate coming in form a deluge to a trickle or not at all. Not to mention that there are security benefits from securing the border as well, from smugglers to possible terrorists.
The next step is to deal with those immigrants already here. Now I can sympathize with the boot-'em-out strategy, but they won't be very efficient or effective. The passive version, which is to make it so inhospitable for them here (by tightening enforcement on employers and the like) that they'll have to leave, likely won't work because these people are poor, may not have the resources to go back, or it may still be a better life here then at home. The active version, which is to actively hunt down and deport them, would require astronomical resources and effort from our law enforcement agencies and judiciary, and this would likely detract from the more important victim crimes. Also, as a nation we're partly responsible for their current situation. We didn't secure the border very well and we also didn't apply enough pressure on employers and to deporting them when their numbers were few. Thus many found it easy to live here, told their friends and family back home, and more and more came in. At this point, once we have secured the border, then implementing a program--call it 'amnesty' if you must, but the term shouldn't matter--which would give these people, who are currently living as a permanent underclass--a status which, ironically, would discourage assimilation--a path to legality, and eventually citizenship. Now of course we'd run background checks and deport those who had committed felonies and maybe make those with misdemeanors work a bit extra hard. But no other system is practical enough or accounts for the fact that our prior negligence allowed this to become as big a problem as it is.
I hope now you can see why we need to secure the border first, and that doing what this immigration bill would have done is putting the cart before the horse. And this is why I, a Democrat, am glad that it failed.