Much of the anxiety of the current immigration debate is centered on the proposed guest worker program, which has been largely advanced by agriculture (although only 4% of immigrants work in ag) and other employers. Much of what we suspect - not know - about guest workers is ill-informed or influenced by other fears.
For example, many think outsiders depress the wages of native workers. But not to the degree you might suspect.
But immigrants tend to work in different industries than native workers, and have different skills, and so they often end up complementing native workers, rather than competing with them. That can make native workers more productive and therefore better off. (In construction, for instance, the work of carpenters and masons, who are often immigrants, can create a need for crane operators and foremen, who tend to be native-born.) According to a recent study by the economists Gianmarco Ottaviano and Giovanni Peri, between 1990 and 2004 immigration actually boosted the wages of most American workers; its only negative effect was a small one, on the wages of workers without a high-school diploma. And if by increasing the number of legal guest workers we reduced the number of undocumented workers, the economy would benefit even more. [More]
There are many aspects to the immigration debate, and the most likely outcome right now is to continue the status quo - hardly a good working solution. Hardliners who want to wall-and-deport cannot muster the political power to spend the enormous sums needed for that kind of enforcement - even if it is possible.
The current answer for most problems in the US is more police of some kind - more coercion. One the the amazing features of American success has been voluntary compliance. Or as in the case of income taxes - a pretty good try. It seems to me America works best when we simply show people our way of doing things and they choose to copy us. We are less successful using strong-arm tactics. See "policy, foreign"
I am concerned this debate will produce only a larger enforcement sector in the US economy ( a really unproductive activity), a less than charming no-man's land on our border, a crippled economy, and significant alienation for many of our citizens.
And about the same number of illegal immigrants.