THE ROAD TO REFORM
As recently as 18 months ago, a visitor could have spent a week in the United States, watching television and reading the newspapers, and come away with virtually no clue that immigration was a major issue. Today, it is at or near the top of most voters' lists of problems facing the nation -- one that, in many people's minds, outweighs every other threat save international terrorism. This shift has been driven in large part by politicians and the media. The U.S. immigration system has been broken for a long time, and little -- including the number of immigrants arriving in the country -- has changed dramatically in recent years. There is little doubt that the system needs fixing. But just how big a problem is immigration? Is it in fact a crisis that threatens the United States' security and identity as a nation? And does it, as today's bitter debate suggests, raise so many fundamental questions as to be all but unsolvable?
As of this writing, Congress appears to be at an impasse, after nine months of intense debate and the passage of two major bills (one in each chamber) still unable to agree on a piece of legislation. The president has made clear that immigration reform is his top domestic priority, and legislators from both camps spent the summer insisting on the need for change. And yet, as the 109th Congress draws to a close, it seems unlikely that members will make a serious effort to resolve their differences before going home to face voters in November.
In fact, the nation is far less divided on immigration, legal or illegal, than the current debate suggests. In the last six months, virtually every major media outlet has surveyed public attitudes on the issue, and the results have been remarkably consistent. Americans continue to take pride in the United States' heritage as a nation of immigrants. Many are uneasy about the current influx of foreigners. But an