The Great Immigration Divide

By Miguel Perez

May 5, 2008 5 min read

I've been saying it for years: The only reason we can't fix our broken immigration system is because on the issue of illegal immigration, there is no middle ground. But maybe I've been part of the problem; maybe I, too, should move to the middle ground.

On one end of the political spectrum, you have those who oppose any kind of "amnesty" for the country's 12 million illegal immigrants, even if they pay all kinds of penalties and go through a waiting process of a dozen years to begin applying for U.S. citizenship. In fact, the extreme right would oppose any kind of legalization plan, even after we secure our borders and stop the influx of new illegal immigrants. They believe that by making these people feel miserable, they will self-deport back to their countries. It's unrealistic and inhumane, but that's what they believe.

On the other end of the spectrum, many immigrant rights advocates don't seem to recognize that the tide has turned against them. Blindly chanting "Sí se puede (Yes, we can)," they refuse to see that anti-immigrant sentiment unfortunately has grown in this country, that things changed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, that the economy no longer gives us the luxury of having jobs to spare, and that many Americans obviously want our borders secured before we legalize the undocumented immigrants.

While one side moves further to the right — constantly inventing new and innovative ways to harass illegal immigrants — the other side moves further to the left — constantly looking for legal loopholes to keep the government from building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. They also dilute their cause by joining up with leftist extremists pushing other agendas, as we saw last week in the May Day demonstrations.

The great divide between those two extremes — and their unwillingness to search for middle ground — is what keeps our immigration system broken. It keeps the number of illegal immigrants growing, as well as government raids and deportations.

By opposing any form of a legalization plan, immigration hawks have not obtained the support they need to crack down at the borders. And by insisting that immigration reform must be comprehensive — both securing the borders and legalizing undocumented immigrants — those who support a legalization plan have opposed measures that only would deal with border enforcement. I count myself among them!

But I'm taking a huge step toward the middle ground. I hereby recognize that we have failed to convince many Americans that when some sort of amnesty is granted, there will be an immediately established program to seriously cut back on future illegal immigration. Until we do that, those who believe amnesty will encourage more illegal immigration will have a valid argument, one that will be strong enough to continue to paralyze efforts to reform our immigration laws.

The middle ground is the one Sen. John McCain has proposed. Although he originally favored comprehensive immigration reform that involved simultaneous border enforcement and legalization, McCain now is pledging that, as president, he would secure the borders first and then find a humanitarian way to bring 12 million people out of the shadows. It's not great, but it's realistic!

Although Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are pledging to pursue comprehensive immigration reform, in the long run they also would have to come around to McCain's way simply because no president can make significant changes in immigration policy without the support of Congress.

Those who believe that having a Democrat in the White House automatically will create a legalization program are sadly mistaken, just like those who had those expectations when the Democrats took control of Congress two years ago.

I wish there were a faster way of getting illegal immigrants on a path to legalization, but let's be realistic: The longer we take to get something started the longer we'll have to wait for it to get done. Demanding "all or nothing at all" will get us absolutely nothing. And that applies to both the left and the right.

If we fail to compromise, in a few years we'll be talking about many more illegal immigrants and a much bigger national security problem. If we compromise, the sooner we secure the border the sooner we can allow illegal immigrants to become full members of our society.

The overwhelming majority of Americans undoubtedly would stand on such a middle ground; the extremists on both sides would have to shut up; and we would have a fair and functioning legal immigration system.

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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