The two most prominent immigrant-bashing presidential candidates, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (whose stance was shaken by the revelation that illegal immigrants were doing his lawn work in Belmont), were dispatched in the Republican primaries, taking the issue with them. Anti-immigrant firebreathers were tossed out of congressional seats in 2006 and while President-elect Obama and his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, had little in common they did share reasoned approaches to the issue of illegal immigration. The simplistic "send them back where they came from" approach has no traction with a majority of American voters.
The proposal to build a costly fence along the American border with Mexico is symbolic of Bush-era hate and paranoia and should be abandoned immediately in January. The idea that millions of illegal immigrants can somehow be rounded up and shipped home should be abandoned also as unrealistic. Walls and deportations are no answer, and neither are raids, as Massachusetts residents saw two years ago when federal immigration agents raided a New Bedford manufacturing company and in shipping illegal immigrants home without any semblance of an appeal, broke up families by leaving children behind. These shameful acts are not worthy of a nation built by immigrants.
The economic ramifications of illegal immigration are complex and defy easy solutions. Many businesses in manufacturing and farming rely on illegal immigrants for labor and could collapse in this tough economy without them. It is easy to say they deserve to fail, but many employ American citizens who would suffer also. The presence of illegal immigrants in the workplace, of course, deprives citizens of jobs and pushes down wages. Any solution will require some form of amnesty, no matter how much that word angers the far right, providing illegal immigrants with a path to citizenship. Because they all cannot be deported, this is the only realistic alternative.
The president-elect has made a couple of appointments to key positions that suggest a more realistic approach to the immigration debate. Hilda Solis, a former congressman from outside of Los Angeles and the new secretary of labor, is the daughter of immigrants, her father from Mexico, her mother from Nicaragua. An advocate of the working poor, she has demonstrated a compassionate, hard-headed approach toward immigration while in Congress. As governor of Arizona, new homeland security chief Janet Napolitano knows the complexities of the problem first-hand, unlike those who advocate cruel "solutions" that won't actually work in reality. Next year, let's move beyond fences and raids to real-world solutions to a tough issue.