One thing is certain if we’re ever to have a reasonable and workable border policy: No group will get everything it wants.

The extremists, of course, should get nothing. There are those who’d like to build a Berlin Wall across the vast border, effectively sealing the United States off from Latin America. The expense would be unbearable, and enforcement impossible. There also are those, both north and south of the border, who think the United States should welcome all comers with open arms and open checkbooks. That won’t do, either. Our social and economic fabric couldn’t stand it.

Ideally, of course, Latin America would wake up one morning and find that wise governance and sound business policy had suddenly produced a cornucopia. That would stop illegal immigration in its tracks. Don’t hold your breath, however. For the foreseeable future, America’s wealth will remain an irresistible attraction for the impoverished southern masses.

Somewhere in the middle lies a policy that won’t bankrupt the United States on the one hand and that won’t consign millions of Latinos to starvation on the other. Finding that policy, or even a workable prototype, will challenge the creativity of all involved.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., weighed in last week during a surprise visit to the Phoenix meeting of the National Association of Hispanic Elected and Appointed Officials. He pointed out that scores of people die every year trying to cross the border. “It’s a tragedy,” he said. “It’s got to stop.”

Some, including the Tribune, have urged establishment of a guest-worker program to legitimize at least some of the border crossers and protect their rights. Some of the Hispanic officials said last week, however, that such a program might consign workers to a second-class existence.

That could be true. But given that these people are not citizens (note the word “guest,”) and that the alternative is dire poverty in Latin America, would it be the worst thing? Would it be worse than the current situation, where many immigrants who survive the crossing are brutally exploited and abused on this side of the border?

Some reasonableness has to come into play. As McCain said, “Unless the Hispanic community gets together and supports one program, we will not succeed.”

In other words, the Hispanic community has a duty to do more than demand the candy store, and a duty to do more than veto proposals that don’t just give it away.

The current situation is indeed intolerable. And resisting reasonable compromise only gives ammunition to the growing army of Arizonans who are beginning to think the Berlin Wall looks pretty good, after all.

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