Immigrants, legal immigrants, are not people... not as far as Immigration is concerned.
This is unacceptable. Absolutely, totally, and completely unacceptable. As President Bush said in his speech on the immigration issue (which I think is almost as good as his speech before Congress on September 20, 2001):
We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say.
As I discussed over two months earlier, laws can go wrong. Some of them are wrong from the beginning. When they cross the line into injustice - either intentionally (as in the case of racial segregation) or unintentionally (as was the case with the Volstead Act) - people eventually figure it out. Soon the number of victims becomes harder and harder to ignore. At some point, people start to defy the laws the perceive as unjust, and when that reaches a critical mass - then the problem begins.
When the scale of the lawbreaking reaches at least five times the size of America's present prison population (I ran the numbers here), the critical mass has probably been exceeded by a wide margin. There is no way to round up and deport them all. Getting them to self-deport will not happen, either - we'd have to make America more miserable for them than their home country. That would not only take some doing, there is just no way that an Administration or Congress that did so would survive politically - because there is just no way to limit it to illegal immigrants.
Too many people are trying to pretend this is simple. As I have explained earlier, it is not. Not only that, it is obvious that conservatives have been quick to see the flaws in agencies like the IRS, and various environmental bureaucracies (Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA). Yet when it comes to immigration... silence. Not only that, they demand the current system of laws be enforced to the letter.
Sorry, but I'm not buying that. When a system becomes this arbitrary, and does not treat people with dignity or respect, it will eventually be defied. When the defiance is widespread, the law will eventually collapse as people realize that there is no way that the government can get all of them.
Sadly, too many conservatives have mistaken mindlessly enforcing the letter of a law that has gone haywire for supporting the rule of law. They will probably ensure no immigration bill get s passed this year, meaning the problem will fester for at least another three years (because at least one conservative Senator is planning to run for President, and he will pander to the hard-line vote). They have decided the status quo is better than an ideologically impure solution, and some of these hard-liners have decided that misrepresentation and demonization of their opponents is acceptable conduct.
The tipping point is coming - and a lot sooner that some want to admit. If Republicans don't solve this problem now - it might be solved by people who come up with something that makes the Hagel-Martinez compromise or McCain-Kennedy look like strict enforcement. Those who came here illegally do not deserve a free pass to becoming citizens, but at the same time, it is neither possible nor just to deport every last one of them. Giving them a chance to come forward and pay a reduced penalty in exchange for their "guilty plea" is the only viable option left.
If this large-scale plea-bargain (not an amnesty) is combined with additional border patrol and ICE agents, as well as additional border surveillance assets, increased legal immigration quotas, and a rational system that has objective requirements that people will know they must meet in order to get a visa, green card, or to become a citizen, this country will have a very good chance at solving the issue over the long haul. But that will mean politicians - creatures not known for having spines - will have to stand up to the hard-liners. That's not happened very often.