In often needlessly harsh ways, President Donald Trump is forcing Americans to face issues that have been festering for decades, but effectively swept under the rug by the ruling party duopoly. Nowhere is this more evident than with immigration, an issue that helped to spark Trump’s quixotic, but ultimately successful, campaign.

Many Americans are clearly upset about an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, and many also fear the arrival of more refugees from Islamic countries. Perhaps no issue identified by Trump has been more divisive.

Not surprisingly, Trump’s rhetoric has stirred bitter anger among the country’s polite establishment, right and left, as well as the progressive grievance industry. His call for a massive border wall has not only offended our neighbor, Mexico, but also created legitimate concern in Latino communities of massive raids. According to a 2012 study for the National Institutes for Health, the undocumented account for roughly one in five Mexicans and up to half of those from Central American countries.

The weakness of the open borders position

Anti-immigrant sentiment has a long, if somewhat nasty, history in America. It usually follows periods of great immigration, and ethnic change, as occurred in the mid-19th century and early 20th century, when immigration policies were dramatically tightened.

Today, economics dictates some change of direction. In a country where wages for the poorest have been dropping for decades, the notion of allowing large numbers of similarly situated people into the country seems to be more a burden than a balm. In California, among noncitizens, three in five are barely able to make ends meet, according to a recent United Way study.

In California, Gov. Jerry Brown has famously laid out a “Welcome” sign to both Mexican illegal and legal immigrants coming to the state. Many progressives consider concerns with nationality and cultural integration as vile attempts to have them “Anglo-Saxonized.” The open borders ideology has reached its apotheosis in “sanctuary” cities which extend legal protection from deportation even to criminal aliens who have committed felonies.

Trump’s over-the-top response

Politically, the open borders rhetoric helps Trump. Even in California, three-quarters of the population, according to a recent UC Berkeley survey, oppose sanctuary cities. Overall, more Americans favor less immigration than more. Most, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, also want tougher border controls and increased deportations. They also want newcomers to come legally and adopt the prevailing cultural norms, including English.

But in his rants on immigration, Trump may be going too far. Only a minority favor Trump’s famous wall, and the vast majority, including Republicans, oppose massive deportations of undocumented individuals with no criminal record. Limiting Muslim immigration does better, but appeals to only roughly half of Americans.

Trump’s restrictionist choice for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is also on record opposing more legal immigration. This could prove ruinous to the country’s long-term future. Like most high-income countries, the United States’ fertility rate is below that needed to replace the current generation. If the U.S. cuts off its flow of immigrants too dramatically, we will soon face the labor shortages, collapse of consumer demand and drops in innovation already seen in the European Union and much of East Asia.

An overly broad cutback in immigration would also deprive the country of the labor of millions of hard-working people, many of whom do difficult jobs few native-born Americans would do. The foreign-born, notes the Kaufmann Foundation, are also twice as likely to start a business as the native-born.

Seeking a third way

The response to the proposed Trump-Sessions immigration policies must be something other than “no.” There’s no need to keep up the silly posturing about “resistance.” The public has ambivalence on the issues, but generally does not welcome an unceasing slew of people, particularly undocumented, arriving without skills or meaningful prospect of supporting themselves.

You won’t hear much of this on campuses, or in Corona Del Mar or Beverly Hills. But large numbers of undocumented immigrants have been linked to high rates of criminal activity, from drug running to street violence, preying largely on the very immigrants progressives say they want to protect. It also dampens the hope for higher wages among heavily minority service workers by continuing a supply of even hungrier new arrivals.

So, what kind of immigration is best for America? Some hints can be gleaned by examining the Canadian system, which puts premiums on marketable skills and language proficiency, rather than family reunification. Support for immigration is much higher in Canada than here in the U.S.

Such a need-based program would be a far better — and fairer — way of addressing skills shortages than the odious H-1B program, which allows temporary indentured tech workers to replace American citizens. Instead, talented newcomers would be welcomed as future citizens and given the right to negotiate their own labor rates and conditions.

Such a middle-of-the-road position, of course, will be difficult to push in an era of heightened polarization, highly organized advocacy and needlessly harsh rhetoric. Yet, two realities — a changing economic environment and sluggish demographics — suggest an urgent need to address immigration in a way that preserves its critical contribution to the nation without undermining our legal system, economic prosperity and cultural coherence.

Cross-posted at New Geography.

Originally published at Orange County Register.