A majority of Americans -- nearly four out of five -- agree that more needs to be done at our borders to keep out illegal immigrants.
But once illegal immigrants are in this country, the nation is deeply divided on what should be done, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.
The contradictions, however, don't stop there. The survey found that a majority support the basic premise of the new and controversial Arizona law mandating police check the immigration status of those who they suspect might be in this country illegally. Although, most do not approve of racial or ethnic profiling.
And this is exactly why the issue of illegal immigration is far from simple. It's not just about some abstract public policy, it's about people.
The Arizona law has focused attention on the nation's flawed immigration policy. Perhaps this will, over the long run, result in necessary changes to federal law and bring about better and more uniform enforcement of the law. In the end, that's what most Americans want, according to the NYT/CBS poll.
We, like the nation, are torn on the Arizona law. While we are against illegal immigration, we aren't convinced it's wise to turn local law enforcement officials into de facto immigration officers. It forces these officers into akward and difficult situations where they must determine people's legal status on such things as the color of their skin or their accent.
It also sets the stage for neighbors turning in neighbors. This sets the stage for mischief or worse. Petty differences -- firing up the leaf blower at 6 a.m. or dogs yipping at midnight -- could be settled by a call to the cops.
And do we really want to live in a state (or country) where we are stopped by officials to look at our papers.
Beyond that, this is an issue that should be handled at the federal level. It makes no sense to have a patchwork of immigration laws based on a state's proximity to the border or the public's tolerance for illegal immigrants.
We understand the frustration in Arizona. It is felt to some degree in Washington state.
That frustration, however, should be focused on positive efforts to overhaul the nation's immigration policies.
It is unrealistic to expect to stop at the border every person entering this country illegally.
If this country is ready to take this issue on -- and the actions in Arizona might have gotten it there -- the place to start is with making it more difficult for illegal immigrants to get jobs. If no jobs were available then the incentive to enter the country illegally would be greatly reduced.
Still, workers are needed so the system for hiring legal foreign workers must be improved.
Putting pressure on employers to do a better job of screening job applicants will be difficult and controversial.
Nevertheless, we believe it will be more productive than Arizona's approach.