Immigration in America is broken. There is no way to sugarcoat it, unfortunately. Failure of the administration to separate legal and illegal immigration concerns and to treat the politics of both as distinct from each other is jeopardizing the future of America.
There are several articles, memos and blog posts which articulate what is wrong in a lot of detail, so I won't repeat those. To illustrate the problem though, here is a short blurb about my own situation.
I have been a legal immigrant in America since I arrived to study Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin in 2000. I graduated with a BS in Computer Science, interned at National Instruments for many months and went on to work at Microsoft for several years. I now work at a software startup. I'm a legal resident alien, but I'm still awaiting my permanent resident card ("green card"). I've been in the US for over 11 years now. I pay my taxes (TurboTax computes that ~16% of all income I've earned over the last 10 years has gone towards taxes, and this doesn't include local sales taxes), I occasionally speed on freeways and get pulled over, I spend money to stimulate the local economy (Mint.com says I spend ~2.5x what the average American my age spends), I eat junk food, I save money for retirement and invest it in American companies, I volunteer at a local high school, I support the Texas Longhorns and the Seattle Seahawks, I drink a lot of coffee, I donate to local and international causes, I whine about the weather... basically, I do what most average Americans do. I have a decent life here in America, and I'm thankful for it. But, barring any change in legislation, the estimated date for my green card being issued is 2024. Yep, that's not a typo. If nothing changes, I will get my green card 24 years after I legally entered the United States of America. Not citizenship, just permanent residence!
I assume I don't need to explain to any reasonable person how ridiculous and ironic this situation is, given that American was built by immigrants. I won't get into how my personal and professional life are impacted by this silly situation. Instead, I want to propose a possible solution, one that I haven't heard mentioned previously.
What if one of the criteria for issuing a green card was - if your stay in America has been legal and you have paid more in federal+local taxes than the average American pays over his/her entire lifetime then your green card application should be fast-tracked.
If this sounds too simple, it's because it is -a simple, capitalist, pragmatic approach to immigration. This rule ensures that prospective immigrants enter America using legal means and remain legal, that they are employable and have documented income that is in line with or exceeds that of average Americans, that they will not be a burden to society but an asset and that they have an incentive to contribute to the success of their adopted nation.
Unfortunately, immigration reform is a political issue instead of a practical one, and a solution to legal immigration doesn't seem possible without a solution to illegal immigration (which just baffles me - anyone know why the two are joined at the hip?). America and Americans will eventually have to suffer the consequences of such nearsightedness, I fear. Illegal immigration is a political minefield though, so I don't have much hope for any real reform anytime soon, but then again... "hope and change", right?