The raid demonstrates how tough it is to have a reasoned talk on illegal immigration

An immigration raid in Portland last week did more than expose law-flaunting employers or heavy-handed federal agents.

It also demonstrated how difficult it is to have a reasoned discussion of illegal immigration.

On the one hand, we have Portland Mayor Tom Potter, who makes the shaky argument that the nation's laws shouldn't be enforced. At the other extreme are anti-immigration activists who would have us believe the United States can - and should - kick out millions of immigrants who are here without documentation.

We realize that people have deeply held convictions on this issue, but the unifying realization ought to be that the nation's immigration laws are impractical and require congressional action. U.S. history is replete with examples of laws that were later judged to be archaic, unworkable or - as was the case with slavery and segregation - downright immoral.

When 12 million people are in this country illegally, including the 160-plus who were arrested at the Portland food-processing plant last week, no one can argue that the system is operating properly. It's simply impossible for those immigrants to be deported en masse - and even if it were possible, their departure would cause serious economic disruptions.

A comprehensive plan that fell apart in Congress just more than a week ago contained key elements needed to reform the nation's immigration laws. The proposal called for sealing borders to prevent further illicit immigration, allowing a path to legal residency for people already in this country and establishing a temporary worker program.

Unless Oregon's congressional representatives and senators want to see more mass arrests of immigrants in their state, they should be among the first to insist that the reform legislation move forward - and soon.

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