Jeff Jacoby

IN THE CLAMOR over immigration, the demand for more border security has been unrelenting.

Immigration restrictionists have dug in their heels, insisting that stronger border controls must come before any other change. The Senate's bipartisan Gang of Eight, bowing to political reality, is proposing an immigration overhaul that creates a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants living in the United States, but makes it contingent on a series of border-focused security "triggers." The bill they introduced last month is styled the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013" – the order of those terms is not random – yeta majority of Americans doubts the government would actually secure the border if the law is passed. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, one of the bill's sponsors, publicly invited critics to suggest ways the security triggers could be made even tougher.

Immigration hardliners are determined to prevent a repeat of 1986, the year President Ronald Reagan signed a landmark immigration law offering amnesty – it wasn't a fighting word then – to about 2.7 million illegal immigrants. Yet the massive border strengthening called for in the law never materialized, critics say. So they've learned their lesson: border security first.

But suppose that in the years since then we had undertaken a massive effort to secure the Mexican border? What if, instead of largely ignoring the rising pressure to crack down on migrants entering the country illegally, Congress and the president had responded to it to with a will?

There is no need to imagine. They did.

Jeff Jacoby

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