Illegal immigration is a hot-button issue for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important is that progressives refuse to support their position honestly. Libertarians can and do argue that border controls are immoral and should be abolished, and the legalization of existing immigrants is a logical consequence of this position. But progressives don't like to admit that they oppose controlling immigration on principle (and indeed many of them may not). Therefore, they can't come out and say that we should grant amnesty to illegal immigrants because all immigration control is wrong. Instead, they have to erect artificial reasons for their position:
- it's not fair to separate families. But no one is trying to stop children from returning to their parents' native country, of course; why should we grant amnesty to the parents on behalf of the children who were, after all, born here only because their parents were in the country illegally to begin with? (This is not even to go into the curious American policy of birthright citizenship, which practically invites foreigners to come here and have children -- and granting the parents citizenship on the grounds that their children are also citizens would enhance this effect, effectively giving citizenship to any couple who can sneak in and give birth to a child.)
- it's impossible to deport 10 million immigrants. This may or may not be true. It seems presumptious to say we can't do it, and it is no argument at all to say that we don't know where all the illegal immigrants are, since that is not a reason to refrain from deporting those we do identify. No one argues that police are 100% effective at catching criminals -- far from it! -- but that's not a reason to stop trying. A return to Mexico is a pretty mild penalty to suffer, but for those debating the expense and danger of crossing the border, it would certainly convince some not to take the risk.
- the progressive argument par excellence: people who oppose illegal immigration are racists. Never mind that a significant portion of Hispanics, along with Blacks, Asians, and other minorities also oppose illegal immigration; never mind that legal immigrants are among the strongest opponents; and never mind that there is a perfectly good reason readily at hand why anyone would oppose illegal immigration -- namely, it is illegal. This debate is never over how many immigrants we should allow in the country, or from what countries, but over how to deal with those who have already entered our country illegally. If it's racist to oppose legalizing 10 million illegals, mostly from Latin American countries, how can anyone justify setting legal limits to immigration from anywhere? Apart from libertarians, I have never heard anyone argue that we should drop all immigration restrictions, but this would seem to be the only logical solution if it were racist to oppose anyone here illegally.
Of course, this is the same argument that progressives use to browbeat their opponents on any issue where they can apply it. It is, frankly, slanderous, but it is even more insidious because no mainstream politician or analyst makes the argument that we should expel illegal Mexicans because they are polluting our race. A hundred years ago, this sort of argument would have been common -- chiefly by the early progressives after which today's progressives model themselves. Now, no one makes it, but progressives pretend that they can see into the secret heart of their opponents and know that they must be racist to hold the views they do. It is impossible to rebut this argument, since opponents of illegal immigration never said anything to cause it and no amount of protesting will cause progressives to stop their bulldog-like hold on the one accusation that can make their support of illegal activity seem legitimate.
I say their support of illegal activity, because it seems intuitively obvious that breaking a law should bring about some punishment. If the law is bad, it should be repealed, but I haven't heard many voices calling for the repeal of immigration restrictions. It is so intuitive that progressives will not call the thing by its plain name, "illegal immigration," but instead resort to the Orwellian term "undocumented immigration." So instead of having to admit frankly that they think there should be unlimited immigration and that we should not punish those who have broken the law by coming here in the past, instead progressives say that they support "a path to citizenship" (i.e., citizenship) for "undocumented immigrants," while those on the other side of the issue are racists.
And then they wonder why Americans get angry about politics.