Many loud voices in the debate over immigration have been insisting that effective border enforcement must precede any steps that legalize the status of current illegal immigrants.
Some analysts, including my Washington Examiner colleague Byron York, have been reading the fine print in the 800-page draft prepared by the Senate Gang of Eight (or Gang of Ocho, if you prefer).
They argue that the legislation is quick to provide some form of legal status but only calls for commissions to be convened at some later time if the border is not secured. There's something to these arguments.
The Gang of Eight, like the drafters of the 1986 law and the bills that failed to pass in 2006 and 2007, is offering a deal: legalization in return for effective enforcement. The 1986 law, it is widely agreed, did not deliver on enforcement, and this bill wouldn't, either.
But that is yesterday's issue. The border doesn't matter so much as it used to.
That's because the U.S. is not likely to have another wave of immigration across the border from Mexico anywhere near the magnitude of the one from 1982 to 2007.
During most of that time, Mexico's birth rates were high, and its economy was hit by periodic crashes. In most of those years, the United States was generating large numbers of new jobs, especially in California and Texas. The wave of immigration from Mexico followed.
Today conditions are different. Mexico's birth rates have fallen; its economy is growing, while ours struggles; and the dream of homeownership in the U.S. was shattered as foreclosures took a heavy toll on Hispanic immigrants.
We can do better on the border -- though we should keep in mind that Texas leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry, don't want a fence along the Rio Grande. But those who fear that legalization would trigger another wave of illegals would be wise to direct their attention to other parts of the legislation.
One is E-Verify, the system to determine the legal status of job applicants by checking their Social Security numbers. It's been required for some employers in states such as Arizona, and a survey conducted for ImmigrationWorks USA, a group that favors a comprehensive bill, reports that 23 percent of restaurant owners are using it today.
The Gang of Eight says that its bill would mandate the use of E-Verify. It's a tool that was not available when the 1986 law was passed.
Most Americans then, left and right, were skittish about creating anything like a national identity card. Americans today, after years of mass illegal immigration and terrorist attacks, seem less troubled by this.