The big immigration story over the weekend was the arrest and sentencing of 297 illegal immigrants for using false documents to work at an Iowa meat packing plant, as reported in this New York Times story. The raid is being construed as evidence of a Bush administration crackdown on illegal workers, since criminal charges had previously been quite uncommon in these cases. I personally have a lot more sympathy for the workers than for the company, which may also face charges and which seems to have an unsavory track record.
But I suspect that the raid foreshadows the future of immigration regulation in this country. The centerpiece of future regulation, for better and worse, is likely to be some kind national identification number that everyone will be required to have; and that employers will be responsible for checking and certifying for all of their employees.
This approach is often criticized on privacy grounds. But I think a more serious concern is the potential effect on the structure of business in areas that rely heavily on immigrants, such as lawn and housekeeping services. The new system would increase the costs of business, which might mean that only larger businesses could survive. If it were not accompanied by a significant increase in legal immigration, so that the demand for illegal labor remained high, the new system also might even create an opportunity for organized crime, somewhat as prohibition of gambling and other vice has done in the past. The workers cutting American lawns and burping our babies (as Obama likes to say) might work for organized crime.
In the end, though, these risks are probably risks that we will have to live with (and that we hopefully will minimize). I think national identification numbers are on the horizon, and that they are a defensible piece of future immigration reform.