I think Jim Bennett is on the right track. Most of his commenters are engaging in wishful thinking to think that mass-deportation and sanctions on employers would be effective. I think the fence advocates are a bit wishful, or at least overly optimistic, themselves. If we seal the southern border, and I’ll believe it when I see it, illegals will enter by sea or through Canada. For what some of them are probably paying smugglers now it would be cost-effective to do so.
You also have to add likely enforcement costs into the equation. These include grand abuses of civil liberties, national ID cards (which will be completely ineffective for their ostensible purpose), rampant criminal extortion of employers, etc. How does anyone propose to track down all of those illegals — house-to-house searches? I think deportation is a non-starter. And employer sanctions have failed completely since 1986.
There is also a basic question of fairness. For years the USA has tolerated a high level of illegal immigration and at the same time has made legal immigration extremely difficult. Under the circumstances I can’t much blame a lot of these people for having come here illegally, and I don’t think we should make them bear the entire price of any policy reversal on our part. Sure, legally we could throw them all out, but not only do I think it would be extremely difficult to do so, I think it would reflect badly on us as a country. I think we are probably best off to try and integrate them. (And I think that we should make a systematic effort to track down and expel the gangsters and other criminals, something we don’t do now.)
The elephants in the room are the welfare state and our dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy. Discussants usually assume that we can’t change our welfare-state rules, and that cracking down on illegals, building a fence, etc. are more doable. These may have been reasonable assumptions in the past. But given what I think are likely to be extremely high costs, including political costs, of any real immigration crackdown, welfare-state reforms to cut subsidies to non-citizens start to look more possible. And how well do people expect the INS successfully to perform a greatly expanded role in the future if it can’t do its job effectively now?
-Current illegals can enroll in some kind of Green Card/Citizenship track. It shouldn’t be a fast track but should make it possible for otherwise-law-abiding illegals to become legal eventually. Maybe make it possible for immigrants who have significant accomplishments (e.g., income, wealth, business ownership) in this country to advance in line.
-Illegals, enrolled in my legitimization program or not, who are convicted of felonies or are gang members get deported and barred (maybe via DNA typing).
-The obvious welfare-state reforms. Most of these would be up to the states. Maybe federal legislation to defund federal revenue-sharing programs to states that continue to subsidize illegals. The Left would block this in the courts, maybe indefinitely but maybe not. Worth a try, and might succeed if a political critical mass exists.
-Greatly (e.g., x 10) expand legal immigration for specific categories of immigrants: education, wealth, English-language proficiency, not being from Saudi Arabia, etc. would all be considered. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be possible for someone from a non-terrorist country who has a clean background, speaks English and has a lot of money to buy an immediate green card.
-Greatly streamline INS procedures for prospective immigrants. I have no idea how to do this but the current system is a disaster.
-I don’t know about a fence. If it works, great, but I am skeptical. The USA isn’t Israel, with relatively short borders and a much higher likelihood that any infiltrators are terrorists. I suppose that a fence is likely to happen, since it may be the political path of least resistance as compared to the alternatives, so we will probably get to learn if it’s a good idea after all.