To all the nations of the region, let me say with great respect, that just as the United States respects your borders and your sovereignty, we insist that you respect ours. Don’t risk your lives or the lives of your children by trying to come to the United States on the road run by drug smugglers and human traffickers. If you can’t come legally, don’t come at all.

Vice President Mike Pence, address in Brasilia, Brazil, June 21, 2018

All of our people – except full-blooded Indians – are immigrants, or descendants of immigrants, including even those who came here on the Mayflower.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, campaign speech in Boston, Nov. 4, 1944

With apologies to FDR, those who research such things tell us that “full-blooded Indians” are in fact descendants of immigrants too, having crossed a long vanished land bridge from Asia. But that’s another story for another time. It’s current immigration I want to talk about, that and the ugly politics surrounding it.

There is no easy solution to the immigration controversy playing out in America today. Nor is it likely one will be found until after the November off-year elections — if then. Both Democrats and Republicans believe they can play immigration to their political advantage, though common sense seems to suggest that neither party will benefit very much from it.

Restoring the sanctity of our borders requires the sort of political courage not much in evidence in Congress today. Congress is where, under the Constitution, responsibility lies to fix badly broken immigration law. The president can’t do it, nor can the courts. The former is charged with enforcing the law, the latter with interpreting it.

The stories and photos recently reported and published in the media are indeed troubling. No one wants crying children separated from parents who have been arrested for illegally entering our country. The public outcry raised by what we’ve read in the newspapers, watched on television, or seen on the covers of magazines (yes, there are still a few of these left) has led to the Trump administration’s quick reversal of its “zero tolerance” policy, restoring the farcical practice of “catch and release” endorsed (illegally) by prior administrations. The outcry has done nothing, however, to close the barn door-wide loophole enabling adults accompanied by children — nobody knows how many really are their children — to enter and remain. Once they’re released, not 1 in 10 show up for scheduled hearings.

The number of “undocumented” immigrants in America today quite likely exceeds 10 million or 15 million. No one knows how many. Should this be a worry? Our birthrate, like that of many other countries in the Western World, has fallen drastically. Our population is aging. There are fewer paying into entitlement programs. It’s not politically correct to associate this with abortion and freely available birth control, but it’s hardly deniable either.

There’s something even more troubling. It’s a simple truism that has a lot to do with the sort of country Americans are leaving to their children and grandchildren: We can have open borders, yes we can. We can have a welfare state. But we cannot have both at one and the same time.

President Lyndon Johnson launched his War on Poverty a half-century or so ago. (My, how time flies.) Entitlements, particularly Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, consume a rapidly increasing and probably unsupportable share of what working Americans produce. Are our people better off today because of this? Maybe. Has poverty been vanquished in this fair and pleasant land? No. The poverty rate is essentially the same as it was in the 1960s. Build a floor for the poor and underprivileged to stand on and, inevitably, more than a few will choose to lie down on it. It’s human nature.

The unintended consequences of LBJ’s Great Society created huge incentives for inhabitants of less fortunate lands to “jump the line” of those waiting to enter legally. They have played on the compassion of Americans swept up in the fantasy that the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants crossing our southern border are those who have traveled a thousand miles or more on foot with nothing more than they can carry on their back. Is this scenario realistic? Is it possible? Almost certainly, no. The far greater probability is that most were trucked, sent by rail, or even flown to the vicinity of our border by despicable drug dealers, traffickers, or even worse, with compatriots waiting in the U.S. to exploit the human cargo delivered into their hands. And who is to blame for this? We all are.

Yes, it’s a nasty business, one that stretches from Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and elsewhere in Central and South America. A nation that cannot control its own borders cannot remain a nation for long.

R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.