Jeff Jacoby

The Supreme Court's recent decision in the Arizona immigration case settled the debate over whether states may criminalize violations of federal immigration law (they may not) or require local police to check the immigration status of detainees they suspect of being in the country illegally (they may).

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in Miami. Under President Obama, about 400,000 illegal immigrants are being deported each year, the highest rate in more than 50 years.

But the ruling in Arizona v. United States did nothing at all to fix America's dysfunctional immigration system or clarify what to do about illegal immigrants. Neither did President Obama's announcement a few days earlier that most young illegals who were brought to the United States as children will be allowed to remain in the country without fear of deportation. Nor, for that matter, did the aggressive deportation activity that preceded it, which saw the Obama administration expel nearly 1.2 million illegal immigrants in three years, more than any president since the 1950s.

For all the storm and stress of our national immigration debate, there has been remarkably little inclination to go beyond treating symptoms. Prescriptions range from the Dream Act that would make citizenship an option for hundreds of thousands of young illegals to the hard-line approach of those who want to make it so difficult for undocumented immigrants to get work that they will "self-deport." But the basic architecture of US immigration policy itself -- with its strangulating confusion of quotas and regulations, and its core assumption that immigration must be strictly limited and regulated -- nearly always goes unchallenged.

It shouldn't. For the problem with America's immigration system isn't that too many people are breaking the rules. It's that the rules themselves are irrational, illiberal, and counterproductive.

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for