The divide-and-conquer strategy that works so well in warfare and politics also represents the best approach for confronting the problem of millions of illegal immigrants who live and work in the USA.
No one knows the actual number of undocumented, unauthorized residents, but the best estimates suggest that they comprise more than 11 million of our neighbors. This massive segment of our population hardly represents a monolithic, homogenous group —for one thing, nearly half (44%) of illegals come from nations other than Mexico. Moreover, as many as 50% of them never ran across the border but entered the USA legally and then stayed longer than their formal authorization permitted.
This hugely diverse collection of humanity defies attempts by impassioned advocates on all sides to generalize about illegals. Anti-immigrant activists distort reality when they suggest that the undocumented are predominantly gang members, welfare chiselers and uneducated burdens on the taxpayer. Most illegals actually work hard and pay billions in taxes, while many own their own homes, go to church and give to charity.
At the same time, it's ridiculous to suggest that all illegals count as good neighbors, loving parents and inspiring examples of the work ethic. About 400,000 have run afoul of the law, with warrants out for their arrest as they defy governmental efforts at deportation.
A reflection of humanity
In short, like every other group, illegals include examples of both the worst and the best of humanity: Some of them damage our society through criminality, abuse of the social safety net and insistence on ethnic separatism, while many others toil tirelessly at their jobs while raising decent children and longing to take their place in the mainstream.
The only sensible approach is to recognize such divisions and to respond accordingly: making it difficult for the destructive immigrants to remain in the USA, while making it possible for the first time for the best, most useful of the illegals to take the path to citizenship and assimilation.
Rather than expecting governmental bureaucracies to determine who deserves to stay and who ought to leave, it makes far more sense to force illegals to choose for themselves. That was the core idea behind the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate last year, and with suitable modifications it's the same approach that deserves revival by the new Congress and approval by the president.