Unfortunately, George W. Bush and Obama in his first term fell short in efforts to work with Congress on meaningful changes. Meanwhile, elected officials in Washington and at the state level too often have used cheap attacks against illegal immigrants to whip up political support.
Just this week Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach nationally known for his efforts to make life difficult for immigrant communities lashed out again. After a group of GOP senators announced a bipartisan approach to immigration challenges, Kobach said, "Those leaders, like John McCain, are not leaders of the Republican Party." Keep in mind that Kobach has been a statewide elected official for barely two years, while McCain is a 26-year U.S. Senate veteran and the 2008 GOP presidential nominee. Clearly, Kobach is falling out of step with the realities of immigration reform.
Politics plays a role in the sudden surge of interest in the topic. Thoughtful Republicans don't want the party stuck any longer with the image that it will do whatever it can to make life difficult for illegal immigrants.
Also, the success of border security and the Obama administration's stepped-up deportation of illegal immigrants have shown that the nation has taken credible strides to stop the flow of people into the United States.
Finally, the weak economy here has reduced America's allure for some; the number of illegal immigrants has actually fallen a bit in recent years.
While an opening exists to resolve this thorny and emotion-laden problem, there's plenty of opportunity for mishaps in the months ahead.
Yes, there should be stiff penalties for businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants. But again, let's put more emphasis on helping people drop that "illegal" tag so they can be productive Americans.
We must have robust border patrols. However, it would be wrong to give in to members of Congress who say the borders must be iron-clad secure before other reforms move ahead.
America's immigration policies too often appear mean-spirited and designed to punish people for wanting to come here and build better lives for their families. We must adopt a new and better approach. Sensible immigration changes are essential to the success of this country.