The fact that we don’t know what those exact consequences will be is reason enough to drop the idea of comprehensive reform of anything. The New America Foundation’s Michael Lind, writing in the Washington Post in 2010:

The second reason comprehensive reform is problematic is that it assumes an ability to foresee problems and fix them in advance — a skill not necessarily found among mere mortals. The longer the time horizon, the greater the hubris of those who claim to be solving problems not just for today but for generations to come.

This overconfidence spans the political spectrum. For example, both liberal environmentalists and conservative deficit hawks rely on sophisticated models to predict dire threats decades away, whether a catastrophic rise in the Earth’s temperature or unsustainable entitlement spending. In each case, even slight changes in the variables can make the remote future look either scary or benign. But when scholarship gives way to advocacy, possible problems generations out are often presented as all-but-certain disasters — avoidable only by immediate action.

The way to avoid this trap is by embracing the lost civic virtue of prudence. Jefferson wisely said, “The same prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our own money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the dispensation of the public moneys.” Jefferson was well aware that imprudence in the use of public monies led to unintended consequences — the bane of good governance. When an exasperated Nancy Pelosi told a reporter in a response to a question of what exactly was in the ACA that “we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it,” the speaker of the House was not making idle chatter. She was dead serious, and to this day we still haven’t grasped the enormity of what Congress has wrought in “reforming” health insurance and the health care industry.

As a nation of tinkerers and problem solvers, some can’t resist comprehensive reform because its allure is in the illusion that any problem can be cured if we are bold enough, or have enough courage (or throw enough money at it). What we fail to realize is that solving some problems creates others. The last immigration reform that was passed in 1986 amnestied 3 million illegal aliens and slapped penalties on businesses that knowingly hired illegals. What was never foreseen was that in the intervening 27 years, the number of illegals would triple, crossing the border without documentation would be virtually decriminalized in many places, and businesses would continue to hire illegals because enforcement was lax.

And now, once again, we are ready to pass a slew of provisions to “solve” the problem of immigration that address so many different questions that the overall effect of the legislation on the future of America has become a crap shoot. The idea of incrementally addressing what needs to be fixed by proposing legislation separately to deal with border security, guest workers, streamlining the visa process, and even a “path to citizenship” for those already here illegally will not be attempted largely because adherence to the concept of prudence — once the hallmark of the American constitutional system — has been abandoned in favor of showy, headline-grabbing, history-making law.

When will we ever learn?