Huddled Masses at the Rio Del Norte (View From Colossos)

United States Mexico border fence illegal immigration barrier from the American side.
United States Mexico border fence illegal immigration barrier from the American side.

"Keep, forlorn lands, your foul bands!" cries he
With pouted lips. "Give me not your truants, your poor.
Your hooligan masses yearning to rampage free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Deal with these; the hopeless, temper-torn, I will not see,
I lift my rampart to hide the Golden Door!"

Americans have gotten themselves worked into a lather about immigration. Cynical politicians have stirred emotions with telling effect. Perspective and proportion are the casualties.
Let's face the uncomfortable truth: immigration is a problem(s) for which there is really no satisfactory solution. That is not a recommendation or excuse for inaction. But simply to underscore the inescapable fact that whatever combination of policies we come up with will leave most Americans discontented on some reasonable grounds or other. This is what happens when you leave pathological situations to fester for decades -- doing things on a disjointed basis (not very competently). Some of those things actually aggravate the condition -- a form of iatrogenic medicine, as did the self-contradictory Obama Executive initiatives over the past seven years.
One could draw a rough analogy with American actions and inactions in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and now Yemen. Actually, it's probably easier to imagine some moves over there (e.g. confronting the Saudis, the Israelis, the Turks) than it is to imagine serious, if partial solutions to the immigration situation.

Still, a few points seem fundamental. One, you have to be able to control your borders -- perhaps not hermetically but for the most part. That is not now the case. I personally don't know enough about the particulars to say if a physical barrier (of whatever height) would be part of the answer. From what I hear around Texas, most of the illegals don't wade across the Rio Grande and then trek through the desert -- they come through or around major border check points.

Two, the organization and management of the relevant border agencies leave a lot to be desired. Undisciplined, poorly trained and undermanned -- they perform haphazardly. Intersecting jurisdictions is part of the problem. Amateurism at the managerial level and petty corruption add to it. Think of airport security: 85% of illicit, banned materials get through when tests are done. That's what the border is like. Or think of the VA. What to do? Let's begin with what not to do: the US government should not hire consultants to find an answer. That's a loser's game. Instead, the White House must take a grip by appointing some tough-minded, experienced people of integrity with a clear mandate to clean things up. More money and hiring would also help. Above all, there has to be rigorous implementation of the measures put in place with accountability enforced up and down the line. That currently is not happening.

Three, processing, screening and short-term detention have to be regularized and speeded-up. See above. Reliance on private, profit-making companies is a national disgrace. We cannot tolerate human trafficking, abuse, and profiteering. It's the government's job and the government's responsibility. The same holds for those illegals detained after being resident in the US.

Four, something like the "dream act" makes sense. Perfect justice? No. But it's a hell of a lot better than random raids or mass deportations. The legitimate question can be raised: didn't we try that in 1986 when a 'grand bargain' paired legalization with stricter border controls? Yes - but we didn't enforce the second part. To avoid a repeat of that fiasco, we should issue dated IDs to everyone already in the country and disqualify everyone who arrives after that date. The "get home free card" would have an expiration date. Again, is there a palatable alternative?

Political asylum is a complicating issue. Not only does the United States have a principled commitment to those fleeing persecution but international law obliges a receiving state to provide refuge. Americans, in a turbulent world, have avoided the full impact of mass flight by virtue of geography - this despite the discomforting truth that the millions under threat in the greater Middle East owe their plight in good part to misguided interventions by the U.S. To date, the Obama administration has washed its hands of the problem, admittedly only a handful of Syrian or Iraqi refugees while placing obstacles in the way of endangered former American employees across the region. Accepting a 100,000 or so of those trapped in Turkey and Europe would bolster our image. That seems unlikely in the present atmosphere.

The generic problem raises ticklish questions for the controlling our southern border. Foremost, how do you distinguish political refugees from economic refugees? Most are suffering both conditions. Then, how exactly do you define political persecution? Is vulnerability to violence sufficient or must the person involved be targeted specifically as an individual or group member? Reasonably clear answers must be given -- in order to act justly and humanely. Doing so becomes a national imperative when large numbers of people from havoc in Central America come knocking at the door or slip through the side door.

Five, separating parents from children is unacceptable. Not easy to avoid and some legislative action may be needed. However, any option -- however imperfect -- is better than creating de facto orphans.

Six, there have to be frank talks with Mexican authorities in regard to most aspects of whatever package of actions under consideration. Admittedly, Mexico is a mess. Yet, we're quite happy with the country being run by bands of crooked, inept politicos so long as they serve American commercial and political interests. That calculus has to change.

Seventh, the economic consequences of NAFTA have fed outward migration. Millions of farmers have been dispossessed by the forced opening of Mexico's agricultural markets to American agro-business. Many thousands of small businesses have been bankrupted by the unrestricted take-over of retail commerce by giant American chains. Large numbers of the impoverished head north. Conditions have been aggravated by the Wall Street financial collapse and the ensuing stagnation which have depressed economies worldwide.

Eight, as to Central America, we continue to follow the 100+ year old policy of backing the oligarchs against popular reformers -- e.g. Obama/Clinton's sub rosa encouragement for the coup in Honduras that has turned the place into the homicide/drug capital of the Western Hemisphere. This is ridiculous; Che is long dead.

The awkward truth is that Mexico, and some Central American countries, are not entirely sovereign. Americans directly run significant sections of their national police and anti-drug operations. We also have agents on the ground; Army Special Ops roam the jungles in Honduras. Moreover, we intervene in their national politics by providing money on a selective basis and timing various policy initiatives to improve the odds on our favorites' winning. We also look the other way when a close election is rigged as occurred in Honduras in 2009 -- and probably in Mexico in 2006 when Felipe Calderon was challenged by Leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Moreover, we let it be known that there will be severe negative economic consequences if the present clique is kicked out of office by reformist politicians. We've done the same in recent years in Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Panama and Venezuela. We succeeded in three of those places. In addition, we helped get a Washington/Wall Street friendly oligarch elected President of Argentina who first act was to forfeit a long-contested $4 billion claim by American hedge funds. Now, we are itching to accomplish the same in Brazil via orchestrated demonstrations that aim to remove the democratically elected President, Dilma Rousseff, as has been occurring with Washington's encouragement in Caracas. It is the poorer elements of Latin American societies who will suffer. Every politically literate person in Latin America is apprised of this reality.

Stability and economic well-being are preconditions to weaken the "push" side of the immigration phenomenon, and to make more palatable steps designed to constrain the "pull" effect. At present, our regional policies work in the opposite direction.