Our Voice: Illegal immigration on the rise political will to fix it in decline

The number of illegal immigrants living in the United States declined in recent years, with some crediting a crackdown on those unlawfully living here as the reason.

But, really, it was all about the dollar. The recession did more than anything else to drive folks home or prevent them from sneaking in. If they can't pursue the American Dream, they're not going to take the risk.

Now our country's economy has stabilized and there has been a slight increase in border jumpers, with about 400,000 more folks living here illegally in 2012 than there were three years earlier. But they may not be from where you think: Illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico are at an all-time high, according to a recent Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends Project report.

Of the immigrants living here illegally, the Mexican population has declined by 5 percent in the past few years. Increasing arrivals include those from South and Central America, the Caribbean and Asia.

Despite a recession and increased attention to deportation and preventing border crossings, we still have a steady population of illegal immigrants. Estimates put the population at about 11.7 million, down from a high of 12.2 million in 2007.

And what all of that means is our immigration system is still a mess. We have a significant group of people unlawfully living here. We have people continuing to illegally cross into our country.

Immigration reform continues to be a massive and challenging issue. And ignoring it doesn't make it go away.

What has happened has only damaged our economy, with a vital work force of Mexican agricultural workers diminished by economic and other factors.

During this critical harvest season, states up and down the West Coast are reporting shortages of workers. In California, the quest for workers has gotten so competitive that they're being lured from one farmer's field to another with offers of more money, free meals and transportation. Some farms are even offering bonuses to workers who stick around for a full harvest season.

Mid-Columbia growers struggled with labor shortages in recent years but reported fewer problems this year.

Public opinion on immigration varies, with some wanting to provide a path to citizenship for those who have lived here, worked hard and stayed out of trouble for a length of time. The stance on illegal immigrants varies by state, with some states passing laws to assist those here illegally with access to education and driving rights. At the same time, other states have put rules into place to further restrict immigrants' access to services.

Whatever your opinion, our nation needs a thoughtful and reasoned approach to immigration reform. Kicking them all out won't work. Our work force suffers. And we're a country built by immigrants. We shouldn't undertake such an awful act as evicting all those seeking a better life. Our forefathers were once immigrants too.

But clearly, the system we have doesn't work. States are piecing together their own rules to cope with the millions of immigrants already ingrained in their communities while the federal government continues to largely ignore the topic. Politics too often get in the way of taking care of the people our leaders are elected to serve.

The system is definitely broken, and it won't get fixed until Congress acts.