In 1966, when America was becoming bogged down in the Vietnam War—a problem seemingly as intractable as the immigration problem seems today—Sen. George Aiken of Vermont proposed a novel solution. He said we should just declare victory and get out.
A similar proposal seems in order with respect to today’s war against illegal immigration from Mexico—and with much better reason. Demographers such as Jeffrey Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center now tell us that “We have reached the point where the balance between Mexicans moving to the United States and those returning to Mexico is essentially zero.” That doesn’t mean that illegal immigration has ceased, nor will it ever. It does mean that there is no net migration from Mexico any longer. There is dispute about the relative weight of the factors that account for this, but there is none about what the main factors are: the economic downturn and stepped up enforcement in the United States, and more opportunity in Mexico. The flow of Central Americans seeking to transit Mexico to enter the United States illegally is also down due to the vastly increased danger from criminal gangs in Mexico that prey on these migrants.
In view of these essentially undisputed facts, it is more than a little curious that the immigration debate in the United States still fosters the illusion that the country is in mortal danger from vast hordes sweeping across the southwest border to invade our communities and steal our jobs. Here is a radical proposal: Let’s declare victory in the war on illegal immigration and turn our attention to real problems—goodness knows we don’t lack for them. Everyone could share in this victory—everyone could take credit, and brag that his or her favored approach was the one that won the war. The more the merrier—let everyone join the victory parade.
This is not to say that we would have no remaining immigration issues to address; of course we would (see NAFSA’s latest immigration recommendations). But maybe if we could put this divisive war behind us, we would be able to address these issues more rationally. Maybe we could have a sensible debate about what to do about the 11 million undocumented aliens who remain in our midst. Maybe we could have a constructive debate, not driven by fear, about what constitutes a rational deportation policy. Maybe we could begin to address the issue of undocumented residents piecemeal, beginning by passing small, common sense measures, such as the DREAM Act, which would address the situation of those segments of the undocumented population that most obviously deserve redress. Maybe the time is not far away when we would be able to recognize that we face labor shortages in certain occupations that historically rely on immigrant labor, and create ways for the labor force that we need to enter the country illegally. Much becomes possible when a war ends, and enemy is vanquished, and wartime passions subside.