Governments matter. Borders matter. How a country is run and its cultural values can determine whether it is successful and prosperous or not - and China is a prime example of this. Since opening itself to the outside world and implementing limited capitalist reforms, the country has rocketed from third-world status to world superpower - even surpassing Russia. Folks from China, however, don't appear to be confident that this change is permanent - or at least they are wisely hedging their bets.
But each successive wave of migrants has adapted to our culture and changed our culture as well. During the anti-Chinese immigration era in the late 1800's, for example, Chinese immigrants could only come to America if they had a business of their own (so as not to "take away our jobs" - sound familiar?). As a result, many immigrants founded small businesses - Chinese laundries and Chinese restaurants. The number of such establishments blossomed across the United States and are now a part of the landscape. And created in that process was "American" Chinese food which bears no resemblance to anything ever served in China. (And perhaps the same could be said for Mexican restaurants, Tex-Mex, and so forth, which have provided employment opportunities for many migrants, both legal and illegal and created new forms of "Mexican" cuisine unrecognizable in Mexico).
Now the reasons for this disparity are many. The US shares a huge border with Mexico which is hard to police, wall or no wall. Our country is very prosperous, but borders a country far less so, which in turn is bordered by countries wracked by violence, poverty, and civil war. It is a lot easier to hitchhike from El Salvador to Texas than it is to walk from Sudan and swim the Mediterranean. But I think also, as I noted above, European countries have far stricter immigration laws and enforcement.
Not only that, they have largely homogeneous cultures, so it is harder to "blend in" when you don't look like the native population. When we were in Japan in the 1990's, there was an issue of "illegal immigration" from Peru, a country with strong Japanese ties. But in Japan, it is very hard to not be noticed, if you are not Japanese. Illegal Peruvian immigrants stood out like a sore thumb on the Japanese subway. I hear today they are actually encouraging limited immigration or at least temporary workers, as the Japanese population ages and may in fact shrink.
But I think a large part of it is that we've always looked the other way with regard to migration and illegal immigration. Huge sectors of our economy rely on migrant labor to get the job done at low cost. Farmers need illegal workers who will work at low wages, to pick crops and do various other farm chores. Yard maintenance crews and home cleaning services are affordable for middle-class Americans only because the workers are not demanding a "fair wage" of $15 with health insurance and benefits. Restaurants only work as kitchens for Americans when the food is cheap and the labor is cheaper. Take all of that away, and these enterprises may crumble, or at least become far more expensive to operate.
Ronald Reagan understood this. Maybe coming from California where there is a large immigrant population (both legal and illegal), he realized that these were hard-working folks and not "rapists and murders" as our current President postulates (but hey, I'm sure a few of them are good people, too, right?). And although the people in the alt-right (all three of them, meeting in Mom's basement) will deny that it ever, ever happened, in 1986, Ronald Reagan signed an "Amnesty" bill that allowed illegal immigrants a path to residency and even citizenship.
It was a humanitarian thing to do, it was a practical thing to do. It was good for business. But many argue that amnesty for illegal immigrants of that era (with an arbitrary cutoff date) only served to encourage more illegal immigration. Hey, if tío Sam allows amnesty once, maybe he'll do it again, right?
And here we are today. A new President has made it a priority to deport illegal aliens. And ICE, emboldened by things the President has been saying, has been deporting people in record numbers. In the past, the government looked the other way if you were here illegally, but committed no crimes. Their priorities for deportation were people with criminal histories who had done or were doing bad things. But illegal immigration itself is a crime, so they use that to bootstrap accelerated deportations.
There are heartbreaking stories, of course. A young man adopted from Korea, is deported, as his adoptive parents never formalized his adoption papers and obtained his US citizenship. He got involved in some criminal acts and, well, he's going back to a country where he doesn't even speak the language, or have a job or means of supporting himself. Men and women who have made lives for themselves here for decades, are shown the door - sent back to countries where they know no one, have no money, job, or even place to stay. And often these are countries wracked by violence or gang violence, where deportation is tantamount to a death sentence.
Of course, you can't manageably work a system where deportation is based on ambiguous circumstances. You can't have a judge apply arbitrary criteria to each case. "Well, this person is a really nice guy, and he's been here a long time and his son has a project due for Science fair next week, so we'll let him stay! This other fellow, well, he has no family and has only been here five years, so he goes!"
It is possible to seek asylum status if you can show that you might be harmed if you returned to your home country, but it is very, very hard to do, for the simple reason that everyone would claim asylum if they could allege harm. Hey, if you live in Chicago, that alone should qualify you for asylum in any other country, right?
Of course, the issue today is the "DACA" or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which was not a law, but a policy enacted under the Obama administration. Once again, we have this language thing, with Democrats calling them, wistfully, "Dreamers" - as if to invoke The American Dream. Again, it is a humanitarian gesture and a fine one - kids who were dragged here by parents shouldn't be sent back to a country that is alien to them, right? On the other hand, it seems like an arbitrary form of immigration policy - one that would encourage people to drag children on an arduous trek across the Arizona desert.
The Democrats - or at least some of them - have made this a cornerstone issue. Whether it resonates with voters remains to be seen. Bear in mind that "Dreamers" don't vote in elections. And even if DACA can be enshrined into law - which is doubtful - it really is a shitty way of "fixing" our immigration system, by providing this arbitrary age-cutoff for immigration. Welcome to America! Children only, please!
Of course, petty politics are getting in the way. Trump supposedly was open to legislating DACA into law and even made noises to that extent. But those talks were derailed with Senator Dick Durbin claimed that Trump called Haiti and African countries "shitholes." I am not sure why Senator Durbin did this - one would think that private discussions regarding pending legislation should remain, well, private, and that people could say things without fear of repercussions or being "outed" in the press. As idiotic a thing it was to say (for different reasons than the press seized upon), I am not sure leaking it to the press was a good idea, unless the point was to derail the negotiations so as to deprive Trump of a legislative "win".
Maybe a better approach is a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform. If our nation's farmers really need migrant labor to pick crops, then let's find them migrant laborers, document them, and allow them to cross the border in safety during harvest season, for temporary labor jobs. In an era of record low unemployment, this seems like a real no-brainer, and something that Republicans, being pro-business, would comprehend. And it is something we've done in the past, when there were labor shortage, notably during World War II.
Oh, but that's applying common-sense to politics. And politics is all about sloganeering and grandstanding. Republicans have to be anti-immigrant, as this is the corner they painted themselves into. And again, it was an issue they created from whole cloth well over a decade ago. Illegal immigration wasn't on anyone's radar back in the 1990's. But I recall an interview on the radio back then with a Republican operative, who when asked what the "big issues" for the next election would be, replied, without missing a beat, "immigration!"
The reporter was flummoxed. "But immigration really isn't that big an issue right now!" he replied.
"Oh, we'll make it an issue," the GOP strategist said. And he was right about that. Since then, they have been beating the drum of illegal immigration, seizing up every and any incident where an "undocumented worker" (note the use of the term worker, comrade!) commits a crime, even though the native-born part of the population seems to create just as much, if not more, mayhem in our society.
So I guess that is the point, when we get right down to it. You may feel you have a strong, original opinion, about immigration - an opinion you formed on your own, uninfluenced by the television or the powers-that-be. You may think of yourself as "humanitarian" and wanting to "help those poor Mexicans" or you may be standing up for "Law and Order" and the Constitution as well as "Preserving our Jobs and Way of Life!" by supporting deportation.
You may very well think any of that. But it is likely that no matter what you believe about this, they were not original thoughts of your own, but rather carefully crafted "talking points" which have been honed over the last two decades to create political divide.
And Left or Right, Democrat or Republican, we fall for this nonsense. Every single damn time.