speech at American University this past Thursday. The media has largely responded by analyzing the president's initiative almost wholly in political terms. (example: this article in the New York Times, which gives immigration reform almost no chance of passing Congress this year, and therefore assumes the entire effort is meant to score political points)
Granted, this is a touchy subject to raise in a midterm election year, and obviously there are political costs as well as benefits to raising it, and most likely the prospects of passing a bill this year are rather slim. Nevertheless, instead of assuming that the whole effort is a show, why not instead look at it as placing on the agenda an issue that nearly everyone agrees is important, and that the president promised during the 2008 campaign to try and solve.
Like some other hot button issues--e.g., abortion, gun control, gay rights--the problem with the immigration debate is that both sides are right. Because both sides can advance strong moral, legal, or economic grounds for their positions, no one can win the debate. If you can't win an argument, you need to approach the solution to the problem in a different way. It would probably help if those who advocate more "liberal" solutions would acknowledge that illegal immigration makes a mockery of the system, and rewards people who crash the gate over people who play by the rules. On the other hand, it would also help if those who advocate stricter enforcement would acknowledge that illegal immigration is a fact; we can never seal our borders completely; and we need to deal in a constructive way with the 12 million or so people who are present here without proper documentation, and who for the most part are productive members of society. They came here to seek a better life for themselves, and they came illegally, for the most part, because we were not offering them a way to immigrate legally. Illegal immigration undoubtedly carries economic costs, but it also produces benefits. Again, we probably won't get very far by arguing whether the costs outweigh the benefits, but it would probably help to acknowledge both the costs and the benefits. Only by addressing the legitimate concerns on both sides of this debate will we be able to produce a better system. The prospects for that kind of debate do not appear favorable however.
(Doug Mills/New York Times photo)