Friday, October 21, 2011

The Lonely Center on Immigration

Secretary Janet Napolitano's visit to Duke yesterday made it exceptionally clear how lonely it is in the center of our national debate over immigration.

Any fair reading of the facts supports the notion that the Obama Administration is pursing a centrist immigration policy that combines increased resources on the border, a balanced policy on internal enforcement, and a pragmatic approach to undocumented persons.

Crime is down in border communities and apprehensions of illegal border-crossers are up. Deportations are proceeding at record levels -- but the administration is focusing primarily on criminals, repeat crossers, and fugitives. The vast majority of illegal immigrants know they are unlikely to face deportation under this policy. The administration is trying to get the DREAM Act passed by Congress to grant citizenship to undocumented students and military members who entered the US illegally when they were young children. This policy is not perfect, but it is clearly an effort to combine respect for the rule of law with a sense of humanity, economic necessity, and pragmatism.

Does the Administration get any credit for a good faith effort to navigate this difficult terrain? No.

Advocates on the left decry the deportations, the tough approach on the border, and the failure to grant amnesty via executive order to the DREAM Act students. Those on the right accept nothing less than an airtight border capable of preventing 100% of all attempted illegal entries, see 400,000 deportations a year as too lax when we have millions of undocumented workers, and view the DREAM Act as a magnet for more illegal entries.

Even though the public supports a balanced approach to immigration that includes both stronger enforcement and a pathway to citizenship, there are few core political constituencies or institutions in the middle. The loud voices on both sides dominate the debates. Those who stray from orthodoxy are chastised. Prospects for a "grand bargain" on immigration are dimmer than they have been in years.

Immigration is a microcosm of our national inability to address our big challenges.

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