The states and the president have acted on immigration for one very clear reason: Congress has not solved the problem.
Budget, deficit, and debt-ceiling battles embittered an already partisan climate on Capitol Hill, making cooperation on such a controversial (though vital) topic even harder.
But some policy experts see reason to hope.
The negative reaction to the state laws by a broad swath of stakeholders—faith communities, businesses, human rights organizations, state and local politicians of both parties, and others—could signal an opportunity, they say.
"Did we have to hit bottom before we could start to head back toward the surface and maybe re-establish a more sensible conversation?" wonders Fitz. "Different people come at it from different perspectives," he says, "but I think the fact is that there's a strong consensus in the electorate that we've got to do something more realistic, more pragmatic about the current undocumented population."
And a few public opinion polls signal left and right may be moving closer together, perhaps creating that environment for compromise.
According to a Fox News poll taken in early December, 63 percent of Americans favor increasing legal immigration and 66 percent believe illegal immigrants should be allowed to remain in the United States and eventually qualify for citizenship if they meet certain requirements. Even a majority of Republicans—63 percent—favors a path to citizenship.
Regelbrugge, in a paraphrase of Winston Churchill, explained his reason for hope. "The Americans will always do the right thing—once they have tried everything else," Regelbrugge says.
"I believe 2011 was, in many respects, a step back," he adds. "But I believe it was a painful step back, which was a necessary part of realizing we've tried everything else."
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- Check out political cartoons on immigration.