Unfortunately, this is not an April Fool’s joke

Starting on April Fools’ Day in Tombstone, Ariz., volunteers calling themselves the Minuteman Project began gathering for a monthlong demonstration at the U.S. border with Mexico. The estimated 1,000 citizen border patrollers have the wrong prescription for solving the immigration problems that ail us all.

Most of these militia members are as frustrated as I am with our broken immigration system. They are simply pursuing the wrong set of remedies to the problems created by our failed immigration policies.

On one thing, we agree: The immigration system is in desperate need of reform.

Many involved with the Minuteman Project and the broader anti-immigration movement feel that we cannot consider reforming immigration until we get control of our borders, but that is precisely backwards. We cannot gain control of our borders until we reform our immigration laws so they match more closely with reality. Reformed laws must meet the needs of employers, immigrants and this nation’s citizens.

They must also be efficiently and effectively enforced so we can free up our security resources to focus on the threats of terrorism, smuggling and violent crime.

That approach to immigration reform is much more realistic, much more likely to succeed and much more consistent with our values and traditions as a nation of immigrants.

Generally, Americans don’t hate immigrants. But they are uncomfortable with illegality and a government that doesn’t seem to be doing its job.

The militia approach is one of guns and aggression.

The better approach is to recognize and regulate reality.

President Bush, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and a growing number of leaders in both parties have put a new approach on the table. The “big idea” they support is to create legal channels for immigrants seeking opportunity, allow immigrants already here to come out of the shadows and participate legally in our society, deploy humane, intelligent border-security measures and cut off the black market for fake documents, exploitive employers, violent criminals, smugglers and the like.

Only this style of reform will allow us to transform a deadly, chaotic and illegal immigration system into a safe, legal and orderly one.

Making it hard to come here legally and then stirring up outrage about the resulting illegality is a political strategy. Allowing enough immigration to happen legally so that our border agents, intelligence services and law enforcement can focus on legitimate security threats is a security strategy.

But alas, for the entire month of April, the anti-immigration movement has the floor to make its best case to the public about how effective its approach to immigration reform and dealing with undocumented immigrants has been.

Here’s my assessment of their record so far:

We’ve tripled the size of the Border Patrol while quintupling its budget, deploying all manner of military hardware, spy planes, radar and fences. We’ve just authorized 2,000 more Border Patrol agents in the Intelligence Reform and Appropriations bills in Congress. We’re taking away immigrant driver’s licenses, putting all of us at greater risk. We’ve cut them off from social services. We’ve reduced immunizations, health care, prenatal care and educational opportunities for their children. We’ve made it difficult for them to reunite legally with their families. We’ve cut them off from the courts, due process and appeals to fight deportation. We’ve never given them legal rights or the full protections of our labor laws.

And yet people seeking opportunity, freedom and a better life for themselves and their children are still risking their lives to seek the American Dream. And like our fathers and mothers before us, they are still finding that American Dream.

A nation founded, built and defended by immigrants seeking freedom, jobs and a better way of life can surely come up with something more than armed vigilantes as a means of regulating immigration.

(Angela Maria Kelley is deputy director of the National Immigration Forum, a nonpartisan pro-immigrant advocacy group in Washington. Reach her at media(at)Immigrationforum.org.)