Conventional wisdom insists that the immigration issue remains so polarizing, so explosively divisive – especially among Republicans – that Congress will make no progress toward meaningful reform before the November elections. New polling data, however, suggests the emergence of an overwhelming consensus behind a common sense approach to this painful, perplexing problem that makes Congressional action not only possible, but imperative.
On two of the three key elements of reform, public opinion is nearly unanimous. Americans of every ethnicity and every political perspective agree that we need both stronger efforts to block illegal crossings at the border, and more vigorous enforcement of laws against employers who knowingly hire millions of undocumented workers. Despite the hysterical charges by fringe groups that President Bush, Senator McCain and Senator Kennedy seek “open borders” that would flood the nation with some 100 million new immigrants, no participant in recent Congressional debates has advocated such a radical, suicidal course. Both the tough enforcement-only House bill and much reviled “comprehensive” approach adopted by the Senate include major commitments to stronger border enforcement – including, in both cases, the construction of an expensive high tech fence to stop illegals from entering the country. And both bills also feature tough new sanctions and enforcement mechanisms to crack down on businesses that hire illegals – with the purportedly “liberal” Senate bill actually providing tougher penalties than its counterpart from the House.
On two crucial elements of a reform agenda, in other words, House and Senate, Democrat and Republican, and some 90% of Americans strongly agree: we need more focus on securing our borders, and more vigorous efforts to stop businesses and individuals from exploiting illegal labor. That leaves the one element of the current debate that supposedly represents an unbridgeable gap between the so-called “pro-immigrant” and “anti-immigrant” forces: the question of what to do about the 11 to 12 million illegals currently living and working in the United States. Even here, however, vast majorities agree on core principles and reject the simplistic sloganeering of the political extremes.