The twin specters of terrorism and tough economic times have brought the immigration debate to the forefront of American politics in a big way. The average citizen sees the flood of immigrants entering the country as a symbol of the lack of border security in the midst of a particularly dangerous time for America. In addition, the growth in illegal immigration is seen as diluting the value of citizenship, cheapening the labor pool and leading to a lower standard of living for actual citizens.

Some of the rhetoric surrounding the debate has unfortunately resorted to ethnic bigotry, but the fundamentals come down to jobs and security. Thus, the reaction to the current wave of immigration has been similar to those of prior waves of migration: The new lumps in our stew froth and steam, and sometime bubble over, in the melting process that is American society.

The schizophrenia over how to act on this issue has resulted in the government agencies that oversee immigration becoming so bogged down in bureaucracy and politics that they have lost both the capability and the willingness to carry out the basic immigration laws.

Thus, for illegal immigrants seeking jobs in this country, there is actually a disincentive to playing by the rules. They know that if they report voluntarily, their applications for work permits, etc., might be ensnared within the system, putting them in a state of limbo as they await their fate. Many would much rather take the chance of detection and possible deportation rather than place their livelihoods in the hands of some intractable government bureaucracy.

On the other hand, businesses, which increasingly rely on immigrant labor, have struggled to come up with a way to comply with the law while meeting their bottom line. It is a frustrating situation all around.

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