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Solution to Arizona immigration law troubles: 'Safe passage' home?

Allowing all illegal immigrants 'safe passage' out of the country is one proposed solution to the tangle of problems presented by federal immigration reform and the Arizona immigration law.

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Yet the Arizona Republic also found that 62 percent of respondents would like to see some form of amnesty – a legalization program to make it possible for those already in the country to stay.

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"What recent polls say about Americans is that they'd like to see the borders under control and would like to know that the US government is doing what they can to keep out people who are coming here illegally," says Ms. Singer. "What's happening in Arizona has highlighted that responsibility issue. But the support for legalization shows that Americans understand why immigrants come here, they understand the role they play in the economy. I think we feel differently once people are in the country."

Is it feasible?

Given the popularity of Arizona-style comprehensive immigration enforcement, ALIPAC President William Gheen says safe passage checkpoints on the border could negate the need for reform as it could calmly repatriate illegal aliens.

"If we needed buses to transport people back to destinations throughout Central America, the American public would volunteer to drive them," says Mr. Gheen, in Raleigh, N.C. "And if the president came out tomorrow and [enforced existing immigration laws], there'd be such a mass exodus that we'd have a humanitarian crisis. So the only peaceful, logical way out of this situation [is to say]: 'This party is over. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.'"

For her part, Singer of Brookings thinks safe passage could find a political foothold. Other experts are doubtful. University of Minnesota demographer Katherine Fennelly is skeptical that any sort of immigration reform can succeed in the current political climate.

The US has once before repatriated about one million Mexicans. But it was in a different political era – between 1929 and 1939.

"We can talk about safe passage and making this sort of forced repatriation more humane, but I think it still begs a larger issue," says Ms. Fennelly, who specializes in migration policy. "It's really too bad that we're not trying to think of policies that would benefit both US-born Americans and immigrants, because it is, in fact, not impossible to craft."