Here’s a bold prediction: nothing happens soon
In a presidential election cycle, certain topics make headlines until the election is over, and then just go away. Such issues excite certain factions among voters, and politicians use such topics to attempt to turn out voters (I know, you’re shocked…) but then do little in the interim. The furor goes quiet until it proves a useful election tool again. Immigration “reform” is the poster child of such issues.
The reform of actual immigration law and procedure would be a worthy goal. It is not likely to come up for discussion in any serious forum. The topic of the moment is illegals or undocumented immigrants, depending on your point of view. Many Americans are disinclined to want more people from other countries admitted to this country, based on our perceived inability to assimilate these new arrivals. Others favor the “Statue of Liberty” rhetoric (Give me your tired, your poor…) and want to liberalize current law and procedure in favor of more immigration.
There are arguments to be made for both points of view, but they are not currently being made with any effort to persuade anyone. Pre-Columbian America had no national identity. America as a nation had its beginning as a British colony, with substantial other European representation. While these “colonists” (or “settlers, conquistadores” etc., as you will) were European in their thinking and acculturation, they shared a sense that the old country, whether England, Ireland, Spain, what have you, did not offer them the opportunity they wanted, and they wanted to try to make a life in this New World. Eventually they grew tired of being administered and directed by colonial powers and their representatives on site, and went their separate way. There arose an isolationist sentiment that is still strong in our national thought.
Those who want “open doors” see economic benefits in a stream of both skilled and unskilled labor coming from outside. “We are all immigrants,” they say, and bemoan the lack of charity from the more nativist among us. This strain is also augmented by those who see the whole thing in terms of self-interest: they still have cousins, parents, friends, etc., who are “over there” and would prefer to be “over here,” so restrictive immigration policy is “inhumane.”
As is usually the case, things are not as simple as either side would have you believe. 21st century reality is not as amenable to the nativist “pull up the drawbridge” thinking as it was in simpler times. If we as a nation want the best scientists, not to mention baseball players and other skilled athletes, etc., we can recruit them only by being somewhat open to the world while we continue to produce our own. Anyway, if someone chooses to marry a non-American, we, in principle, welcome the addition.
To the side who wants to let everyone come, I humbly point out that there are many like me who, while not an elite old society group, are not exactly “immigrants” either. Many of us can trace American-born ancestors back to before the Revolutionary War. We’ve been Americans for more than two centuries. Yes, there’s room for many more, but it’s not ignoble to want newcomers to abide by established law. Ample exception is provided for refugees and asylees. And there is, as a last resort, the “visa lottery” that lets people who meet minimal educational standards try their luck at joining the party.
So what is comprehensive immigration reform? At this moment, it’s hard to say. An overhaul of the immigration system might be a good thing in and of itself. Another “amnesty” program like the one instituted in the 1980’s would permit millions who entered under other than legal circumstances or overstayed a legal but temporary stay to get a “path to citizenship,” and while the idea has its boosters, those who are opposed are inalterably opposed.
How about this: we don’t round up eleven million illegal/undocumented aliens, but we don’t bend everything to “legalize” them either? Say you’re here as of a date specific, and you’re self-supporting somehow or other, stay if you like. If you have a US citizen spouse, he/she can petition for your legal immigration, and that is to be encouraged. If you have a US citizen child, once he/she is old enough to file a petition legally, that is your path. It obliterates any sense of fairness to those who abide by the law to oblige the country to accommodate itself to you.
Of course, this hypothetical approach gives something to each side…wait, that’s a compromise. Never happen.