Recent CBS/Times polls show that U.S. citizens who consider immigration a "very serious problem" rose from 54 percent in 2006 to 65 percent in May. This despite Border Patrol figures that show that the number of illegals apprehended has declined more than 60 percent in the last decade.
The decline, attributed both to beefed up border coverage and, more recently, the lousy U.S. economy, is significant. Also significant is the fact that, according to the latest issue of the "New Yorker," while violent crime keeps rising in Mexico, it is declining in Southwestern border countries - down by 30 percent over the past 20 years. According to FBI numbers, the four safest big cities in the U.S. - San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso, and Austin - turn out to be in border states.
So what's the problem? There are many, but increased crime obviously isn't one of them. In some businesses, poor immigrants depress wages. And when it comes to under-the-table wages, government tax revenue suffers. But perception of the problem has less to do with that sort of thing but with fear of unemployment caused by Spanish-speaking outsiders and, ultimately, the skidding decline of the country itself.
The biggest challenge has to do with the many illegals already in the country. That's what immigration reform has to be about. George W. Bush tried to push through reform, but was beaten back by the right wing of his own party. These are the same demogogs who are blocking reform today, in part by intimidating Obama, who has a hell of lot of other things on his plate. In the meantime, millions of families supported by house maids and gardeners wait in limbo to learn their future.