It's hard to know what the U.S. government could buy with $38 billion, but even in the rarefied world of Washington D.C. economics, that's not chump change.

But such is the amount of money called for in the bill which recently passed the U.S. Senate to "reform" the nation's immigration rules to beef up the number of border patrol agents and enhance security in general along the U.S.-Mexican border to curtail illegal immigrants. It gets worse. The bill anticipates spending a total of $46 billion to "secure" our border with Mexico, if that's even possible.

Forty-six billion dollars would buy a lot of Head Start programs, food stamps, transportation and infrastructure improvements, all of which have faced fierce opposition and spending cuts, mainly in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. And yet, when it comes to border security, too much ain't enough, as they like to say in Texas, even when it's unclear how effective those expenditures will actually be.

Now, we realize that $38-46 billion is the price of political compromise in our gridlocked government. In the long run, getting an immigration bill passed that rationalizes the status of the estimated 11 million Americans who arrived here outside the normal, legal channels is probably worth it in the long run. Of course a nation needs to control its borders, and illegal immigration should be, well, illegal.

However, the problem may well be on its way to correcting itself. The number of would-be Americans trying to enter the country without official documents is declining, as the Mexican economy grows and ours grows at a slower rate. If a sensible procedure for matching Mexican workers to U.S. jobs could be found, we might be able to save a big chunk of that $46 billion.

This is a complex subject and there is much more to the immigration bill than Mexican workers seeking jobs of any sort. We would do well to make it much easier for foreign workers with advanced degrees in engineering and sciences to come here, stay here, and open businesses here. Right now the welcome mat is not rolled out, and we're hurting ourselves with that approach. This bill would not fix everything that's out-of-date in that end of the immigration spectrum, but it would be an improvement.

This entire subject has received much scrutiny in the national media in recent weeks, much of it focussing on the political shortsightedness of Republicans on how they will be perceived as being insensitive to the concerns of ethnic groups that are growing (Hispanics, Asians) while trying to preserve the privileges of an increasingly smaller slice of the population - those who trace their ancestry back to Europe. That political question is fascinating in itself and alone begs the question of why so many U.S. representatives - "a majority of the majority" - firmly oppose it.

About the best reason we can find to oppose the bill is that it's another gross, pork-laden colossus of federal regulation which weighs in with more than 1,100 pages of reading matter for U.S. Congressional representatives (it's a safe bet most haven't read it). It creates some nice carve outs for foreign ski instructors, interestingly enough. And even if you don't think spending those $40-odd billions on border security isn't some lobbyist's idea of nirvana, there's a lot more in the bill to make unions and businesses salivate.

So that's not good. But again, it's the price of politics. The fact that both parties can actually still do this sort of thing, in the U.S, Senate at least, is heartening. It comes at a cost, but is a start at least, at fixing a big problem.

We are a nation of immigrants. Much of the predicted growth for the country in the year's ahead will come from motivated immigrants. The House should pass the Senate's bill, or at least it's own version of it, then negotiate from there.