Americans are often accused of looking at a complex matter and reflexively simplifying it. Funny thing is, sometimes the simplifications are right.


What brings this to mind is the current debate about immigration policy. The bill in Congress is dense, thick and nuanced. But Americans have looked at it, thought about it, and have done their duty by simplifying the whole complex matter into a bumper sticker of a response. Best I can tell, it goes something like this: "Fine. Just secure the border first."


In other words, Americans seem comfortable with shaping an immigration policy that's fair to most. The majority of Americans yes, I believe it's the majority appreciate the benefits of immigration and admire legal immigrants. (I once attended one of those mass naturalization ceremonies and surprised myself by tearing up.)


But most Americans also understand that any policies, any laws or any good intentions are quickly sundered if we don't have command of our border. You can have all kinds of rules and programs, but they mean little if millions are streaming in and overwhelming the system. A doctor may have a miracle cure, but it means nothing if he can't stop the bleeding first. Therefore, Americans seem to be saying, build a fence first. Make sure it's secure. Then you can talk about changing immigration laws.


You know well that any change in immigration will have a profound effect here. Some estimate a million undocumented aliens in Los Angeles County, but no one knows. And about 40 percent of the jail population are illegals.


I must admit I've never thought highly of the notion of building a border fence. It seemed impractical to build, offensive to our neighbors to the south and doomed to failure anyway. And since there isn't much of a legal way for unskilled people to come into this country, having them cross the border illegally seemed, if not the best policy, the best de facto policy.


But if you believe the Web sites, cable television talk shows, etc., most Americans disagree. Who am I to go against the wisdom of those who are able to simplify the complex into a bumper sticker? So fine, I'm on board. Build the fence first.


There would be advantages to a fence. Assuming it is secure, it obviously would greatly pinch off the flow of humanity including, presumably, terrorists. And since many illegal immigrants work here and go back home regularly, a fence under construction might convince many of the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegals in the United States to go home permanently. And think about it. If immigration reform is passed before a fence is built, it would be like an "Open" sign posted at the border, encouraging all to stream across and register under terms of the new policy.


Just as importantly, a secure border would restore at least some faith between the people and Washington. Under the immigration reform of 1986, amnesty was to be granted and the border was to be secured. In the end, amnesty was granted but the border was not secured. Later deals called for the border to be secured, but it never was.


Perhaps that's why this time, the people are saying we need to build the fence first. Make sure it's secured and patrolled. Then talk.


Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com .

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