America's immigration system is broken and must be fixed by a balanced approach including more effective federal enforcement of the prohibitions on hiring undocumented workers together with increased opportunities for legal immigration.
Requiring state and local law enforcement to take on the responsibility of enforcing federal immigration law will not solve the problem. Nor is it practical to deport every undocumented immigrant and remove five percent of America's work force.
Many meatpacking and food processing plants that depend on immigrant workforces are in communities with few replacement workers. They would have to eliminate entire shifts. Farmers would lose markets, mainstreet businesses would close and houses would sit empty, worsening the effects of the recession on American families.
A better approach is allowing undocumented immigrants who abide by the law and fulfill the requirements of citizenship to remain as citizens; and setting higher, more realistic limits for legal immigration.
Today, the door to immigration used by earlier generations is largely closed. Only 10,000 unskilled workers are admitted annually, about one for every 100 immigrants who enter without a visa but find work. People who need jobs to support their families will find a way where there is no legal path.
Immigration limits at levels that do not depress wages or overwhelm communities are needed. But limits must be reasonable and enforceable.
With appropriate limits and effective enforcement, immigration can help new Americans work, raise families and start business, and in the process revitalize small towns, bring people together and build community.
The Center for Rural Affairs was established in 1973 by rural Nebraskans concerned about family farms and rural communities, and we work to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities.