Amnesty or bust. Though not using those words, that's expected to be the message President Barack Obama will deliver in the border town of El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday.
Obama, according to unofficial reports, will argue that his administration has tightened America's borders and stepped up deportations, and that it is time for Congress to enact a "path to citizenship" for at least some of the estimated 11 million illegal aliens in this country.
Wary congressional Republicans and even a few Democrats say that "path to citizenship" means "amnesty," and they're not willing to go down that road again. Previous amnesty programs, which effectively rewarded lawbreakers, simply enticed more illegals to enter the country.
Obama, eager to make good on campaign promises from 2008 and bolster his Hispanic base for 2012, says the time is ripe for immigration reform. The administration reports that it deported a record 392,000 immigrants, and has put more "boots on the ground" along America's southern border.
Workplace raids have stepped up, too, and more businesses are using the federal E-Verify program to screen new hires.
As for the illegals who remain, reformers argue that it is unrealistic to expect the government to deport some 11 million people.
But the experience in Arizona suggests that self-deportation occurs when and where immigration laws are toughened.
Weeks before Arizona's strict law went into effect, large numbers of Hispanics left the state for good.
Schools in Hispanic areas reported unusually big drops in enrollment, USA Today reported. A district superintendent said parents told him the Arizona law was the reason for them leaving.
Arizona's immigration-control measure, signed into law by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, requires a police officer to determine a person's immigration status if they are stopped, detained or arrested and there is "reasonable suspicion" they are in the country illegally.
Paul Senseman, a spokesman for Brewer, said it's difficult to gauge how many people are leaving because of the law, but "If that means that fewer people are breaking the law, that is absolutely an accomplishment."
A court challenge by the U.S. Justice Department has since put the law into legal limbo. The administration's action indicates that Obama will not be calling for tougher national enforcement on Tuesday.
Still, Washington and Arizona appear to have found common ground with at least one effective immigration tool -- E-Verify.
When Arizona passed a 2007 law that enhanced penalties on businesses that hired undocumented workers, some 100,000 illegals left the state, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
E-Verify -- which combines Social Security and driver's license databases -- enables employers to check new employees' eligibility to work legally in this country. The federal program is free and the latest studies show it has a high accuracy rate.
Upgraded to handle up to 60 million requests at a time, E-Verify has an accuracy rate exceeding 95 percent, according to independent and government studies.
In addition to Arizona, several states and thousands of businesses have adopted E-Verify. Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered its use by agencies under his control, but the state Legislature killed bills that would have extended it to the private sector.
Immigration-control advocates say that shutting off employment to illegals will inevitably result in self-deportation. If there is no work, there is no reason to stay, they contend.
The Center for Immigration Studies, a pro-enforcement think tank based in Washington, D.C., adds that tighter control of welfare benefits can also have a salutary effect.
Census Bureau data show that 57 percent of immigrant-headed households (legal and illegal) use at least one welfare program (versus 39 percent for native households). Illegal residents can obtain benefits because few agencies require recipients to provide proof of citizenship.
In the meantime, in advance of Obama's speech, the rhetoric is ramping up for immigration "reform" by any means necessary.
Speaking at a South Bend, Ind., church Sunday, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez quoted Obama from 2008, talking about the need to change an immigration system where communities are "terrorized" by immigration raids and where "nursing mothers are torn from their babies."
Worried that the GOP-controlled House will oppose anything that smacks of amnesty, the Illinois Democrat said he's looking for the president to use "discretionary powers" to enact the changes.
In an indication of where he is heading Tuesday, Obama recently conducted a series of private meetings with business executives, evangelical leaders and Hispanic activists -- the same groups that repeatedly blurred the distinction between "legal" and "illegal" immigrants in helping to defeat Florida's modest E-Verify legislation.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.