All Americans would probably agree that the current immigration situation is a mess. The proof of this is that no one can discuss the issue without having to defend something awful. Immigration hawks must argue for separating families and deporting people who contribute to the economy while immigration supporters have to account for the “bad hombres” who commit violent crimes and smuggle narcotics into the country.

Ideally, Americans would have an immigration system that protects the good people, punishes the bad people, and benefits all Americans. However, reaching this ideal requires a better understanding of the problem. As it stands, politicians mainly make the problem worse by further distorting incentives for immigrants, making immigration law unenforceable, and pitting Americans against one another.

What Leads to America’s Broken Immigration System

The first and foremost among the causes of illegal immigration is failing to secure the border. Migrants cross the border either by finding areas with no barrier or by being smuggled in through various access points. Border officials stop as many people as they can, but they lack the manpower and resources to do so effectively.

Asylum laws also present difficulties for border security. Under the Obama and Bush administrations, many asylum-seekers would be released into the general population (“catch and release”) and assigned a court date that they would almost never attend.

In the last two years though, many more migrants have applied for asylum, hoping they can have the same luck as their forerunners—and a large portion of them have brought children.[1] This has led to ugly scenes of children being separated from their parents along with packed cells of adults with no room to sit. Again, these migrants have good reason to hope that the bad optics and public backlash will pressure politicians and border agents give up detention and release them like before.

Another cause of illegal immigration is immigration law itself. The process of attaining a visa or applying for citizenship is tedious, expensive, and sometimes impossible.[2] Those who are not becoming students at a college, working in a high-tech company, marrying an American, traveling as tourists, related to an American family member, rich investors, or winning a lottery for citizenship have no way of entering the U.S. This means that those with the least resources and the most reason to enter have no way of legally becoming Americans.

Additionally, those who have already entered the country illegally have no path to citizenship and could be deported if they try to request one. Instead, they will usually wait for some form of amnesty while their kids can at least go on to be American citizens. And, faced with deporting so many millions of illegal immigrants who work and have families, most administrations will almost certainly grant this amnesty instead or simply not enforce immigration law, usually both.

The final major cause for illegal immigration is hostile media coverage that mischaracterizes the issue and prevents reform. News outlets regularly publish stories that vilify border agents, glorify illegal immigrants, and shame Americans into tolerating unrestricted immigration.

This barrage of emotionalized press has prevented any intelligent discussion of reform and has made any attempt to fix the problem politically suicidal—unless that solution is decriminalizing the border and providing free healthcare.[3]

What Would Fix The Problem

With this in mind, any brave soul who desires to clean up the immigration mess must address these causes and must do so in the same order: (1) secure the border and fix asylum laws, (2) deport illegal aliens who pose a danger to society, (3) create a path for citizenship, and (4) counteract the media’s false narrative.

One can liken this process to treating a wound. The first step is to stop the bleeding, which should be the main intent behind securing the border. This means completing the wall and maintaining better oversight of those who overstay their visas.[4] As long as people continue to come in such large numbers, reforming and enforcing immigration laws will forever remain undoable.

Unfortunately, Democrats have consistently fought against funding a border wall, even at the cost of causing the longest government shutdown in American history.[5] Besides this, activist judges have halted Trump’s funding of a border wall, delaying new construction. Only recently has the Supreme Court finally permitted funding for building new portions of the wall.[6]

While the wall is being completed, the federal government will need to reform asylum laws that are currently abused. This would involve hearing asylum claims outside the U.S. and expediting this process in general. With Trump seeking cooperation with 3rd party nations, Republicans have recently proposed reforms to current asylum laws, this change has the most hope of being realized.[7]

After the bleeding has stopped, the federal government should clean the wound of illegal immigration by deporting those with criminal ties. As easy as it may be to storm a meat-packing plant staffed with undocumented workers, this does not necessarily serve the public good.[8] The president and conservatives rightly decry the presence of M13 members and other violent criminals, but these people should be distinguished from otherwise peaceful people who work honest jobs. If they do this, Democrat-run sanctuary cities and states will have no serious reason to block law enforcement.

With these two steps accomplished, the federal government should treat the wound and create a path to citizenship for those already here as well as those who hope to enter legally. In the interest of making life easier for both immigration officials and those applying for citizenship, this path should be kept simple, straightforward, and non-punitive. This would not be a blanket amnesty, but rather an initiative that recognizes a broken system and seeks to mend it. Those who refuse to comply will be subject to deportation or prevented from entering—which is why a secure border and targeting offenders must precede this step; the blood flow must be stopped and the area cleaned before the wound is treated.

Keep It Simple

Creating a path to citizenship is not a new idea, but it comes under fire because it is usually bundled with other things that make it difficult to pass—even when it is sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans. This was the case with the failed Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration bill that ended up being too complicated, too tough, and too expensive.[9]

With a secure border and a fair path to citizenship on the table, Americans as a whole need to let the wound heal and stop feeding the controversy over illegal immigration. No American wants to see innocent people suffer, but this is precisely the result of the current immigration situation. Nevertheless, most mainstream media outlets push a narrative that traces these tragedies to American xenophobia and white supremacism.[10]

This argument is malicious and false. Done correctly, border security immigration reform is the only way to protect immigrants and Americans alike. To accomplish this requires an informed populace who can help with making communities welcoming and safe, not a riled-up mob ready to firebomb ICE facilities and denounce conservatives.[11] The propaganda needs to cease so that political reform can ultimately become cultural reform.

Admittedly, solving the immigration problem is not easy. But, as with any problem, it can be solved when it is broken down and better understood. It is encouraging to see a recent Gallup poll show a great willingness from Americans to see some progress on this issue.[12] Political and cultural leaders should take heed and use their influence to bring about the necessary changes. Not only would this improve countless lives caught in the immigration mess, but it would serve to unify an increasingly divided America.

Republished with gracious permission from The Everyman (February 2020).

The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.


[1] Lyman Stone, “The Real Border Crisis Is About Foreigners Gaming America’s Asylum Laws,” The Federalist, December 11, 2018.

[2] “How to enter the united states legally,” The US Travel Guide.

[3] David Harsanyi, “First Debate Proved The Democratic Party Has Gone ¡Loco!,” The Federalist, June 27, 2019.

[4] Richard Gonzales, “For 7th Consecutive Year, Visa Overstays Exceeded Illegal Border Crossings,” NPR, January 16, 2019.

[5] Mihir zaveri, Guilbert Gates, and Karen Zraick, “The Government Shutdown Was the Longest Ever. Here’s the History.The New York Times, January 9, 2019.

[6] Kevin Daley, “Supreme Court Allows Trump to Use Pentagon Funds to Build Border Wall,” The Daily Signal, July 26, 2019.

[7] Rep. Will Hurd, Texas 2023, “Hurd Leads Effort to Reform Outdated Asylum Laws,” Press release (June 4, 2019).

[8] Rogelio V. Solis and Jeff Amy, “ICE Raids 7 chicken processing plants in Mississippi, arresting 680 people in largest workplace sting in at least a decade,” Chicago Tribune, August 7, 2019.

[9] Wikipedia, 2020, “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013,” last modified: 9 February 2020.

[10] S.T. Patrick, “Attacked for Criticizing Illegal Immigration,” American Free Press, July 27, 2019.

[11] Caleb Howe, “Armed ‘anarchist and anti-fascist’ attempted to firebomb ICE facility in Tacoma, killed in confrontation with police,” The Blaze, July 13, 2019.

[12] Mairead Mcardle, “Poll: Percentage of Americans Who Cite Immigration as Nation’s Top Problem Hits Record High,” National Review, July 23, 2019.

The featured image is “Emigrants” and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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