There is an arm of our national body politic that says immigration reform is not about economic progress, not about adding talent and drive to the nation’s workforce, not about joining willing workers with anxious employers or finding a safe place for people who have spent most of their lives adding to our net worth with their labor. Reform, it holds, first must be protective — a militarized border, a computerized screen to filter out illegal workers. Then, reform must be punitive — the millions who live and work here illegally must pay a heavy price, if we are even to think about letting them stay.
This is the moderate position. The conservative view features impossible and irrational dreams of roundups and deportations. Inside the Republican Party there seemed no possibility of finding a solution. Exhibiting the slightest inclination to compromise or accommodation would be, if not political suicide, an invitation to long-term verbal bludgeoning.