In the early 1990s I had a conversation with Peter Brimelow, author of "Alien Nation" and one of the staunchest immigration critics. "You know, Linda," he said, in his charming British accent that betrays his own foreign roots, "we could end illegal immigration at once if we enacted a program that made all the illegals guest workers." Today, I suspect, Brimelow and others would attack such a plan as amnesty. But until we figure out what to do with the 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens already living in the United States, we won't have solved the illegal immigrant problem. Creating a guest worker program, which allows workers to come to the United States for a specified period and then return home, will help curb future illegal immigration, but unless those already here can earn the right to participate, we'll still have a problem. And there's the rub.
Some people seem to think we can just round them all up and send them home. "Get these people out of my country and my state and my face," read one of the many e-mails I've received lately on the subject. "I will gladly exchange a lower rate of economic growth if necessary just to get the return of America. I am now a one-issue voter and have made that clear to all [Republican] fundraisers. I am confident that there are many more like me out there who are not xenophobic -- just fed up," the man wrote. Polls suggest that only about 10 percent of voters feel similarly, but that's a large enough voting bloc to cause problems for the president's plan. The irony is, these voters may be the real impediment to solving the problem of illegal immigration.
Mass deportations won't -- and shouldn't -- happen. The legal, moral and practical obstacles to rounding up and deporting millions of illegal aliens and their U.S.-citizen children are insurmountable. Nor is it feasible to station enough agents along the border or build a barrier long and high enough to keep out everyone. I once stood at the border between East and West Germany with its barbed wire, mines, and sentry posts with soldiers aiming high-powered rifles. Is that really the America we want to create?
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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