Entering the US without a visa is a bit like downloading copyrighted music off the Internet. So many people do it and the benefits seem so great, who really cares if it's illegal?
That "pragmatic" attitude toward illegal migrants has become so pervasive that Mexico now feels no shame in handing out special IDs to thousands upon thousands of its citizens in the US who lack legal documents.
Many US banks have welcomed the IDs as a way to get a cut of the millions of dollars transferred back to Mexico each year. And many local police honor the cards in case these immigrants are victims or witnesses of crime - the fact that they broke a federal crime in entering the US is somehow beyond the scope of local law enforcement.
Mexico says the cards help American officials more easily focus on visa-violating terrorists in the US by allowing its migrants not to hide in the shadows. And it helps these Mexicans more easily take planes and trains and enter buildings where IDs are required post-Sept. 11.
Mexico's campaign to spread the IDs has won over 13 states, many of them in the West. But it's run into roadblocks among Northeast states, most notably immigrant-friendly New York. Concerns are high that the identity cards might complicate the new security measures being put in place in the more terrorism-vulnerable Northeast.
This rapid march to effectively legalize millions of illegal migrants needs to be addressed quickly. A recent poll found 60 percent of Americans regard the level of immigration to be a "critical threat to the vital interests of the US," compared to only 14 percent of the nation's leadership. That gap between officialdom and the public has widened in recent years.
President Bush must soon come up with a plan to end illegal immigration before Mexico takes the matter any further into its own hands. Can the US afford to simply wait as a foreign legal system sweeps the land?