All too often, those pushing for changes in immigration policy have complained that Congress has not done its job by enacting meaningful reform. But if people just want to say "Deport them all" without offering a solution as to how to keep them from getting here or for identifying them or for adjusting to an economy that no longer includes them, why should Congress listen?
We can do better. We need only remember that a good discussion is not a one-way street. There are reasonable questions we can ask and there are answers to these questions.
First, we should identify the problem(s) we have with illegal immigration. I frequently hear that illegal immigrants use taxpayer money and contribute to overpopulation. Others say that they take jobs that people here legally could have and contribute to a decrease in wages.
Second, we should consider the benefits of illegal immigration. Some say they perform jobs (like picking grapes in triple-digit heat) that no one here legally would do. They also accept less pay for their work than others and, in doing so, they keep prices of many products down.
We must also ask ourselves whether we have truly identified the entire problem. Discussion of this issue usually focuses upon those who immigrate from south of our border. But studies have shown that about 30-percent of illegal immigrants come from elsewhere. Will our new policy on immigration pay much attention to those from Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, etc.?
At this point, we should weigh the difference that changes in the law or the enforcement of the law would make, compared to the current situation.
For example, if successful enforcement of illegal immigration policies (i.e. few illegal immigrants around) means that we pay twice as much for certain grocery items, pay more at restaurants and wait longer for medical care, will we still support it?
Also, to what extent are we willing to change laws to obtain successful enforcement? If it means building a huge wall between us and Mexico, or allowing state officials to approach people based on the color of their skin to inquire about documentation status or allowing Homeland Security agents to raid businesses without cause, will we still support it?
And we should acknowledge the consequences of keeping the policy the same, or of repeating the 1986 "reform" which had the effect of granting amnesty to millions of people here illegally. That law was supposed to take care of this problem. If we try amnesty again, or even grant immigrants a path to citizenship, how can we be certain we will not continue to grant amnesty?
There are many sides to this debate and it may take time to hammer out a law that addresses the most important concerns. The bottom line to better debate is this -- if you have a complaint, provide a solution. Tell us you understand the consequences and are prepared to live with them. By doing so, you will have taken our society a long way toward becoming a fair and just place to live.