The immigration issue continues to churn as the U.S. Congress lurches toward the end of 2013. Advocates for blanket amnesty are clamoring for action; supporters of the U.S. House’s piecemeal approach to immigration reform are urging caution.

The issue comes down to one of two choices: open borders or U.S. sovereignty.

Having read and understood the U.S. Senate bill, S. 744, and four House bills passed out of its Judiciary Committee, it is clear that the Senate bill will make open borders advocates happy, and those concerned about U. S. sovereignty will be encouraged by the many solid features of the House bills. The House and Senate bills, though, are incompatible.

If you scratch someone who supports the legalization of the estimated 11 million or more illegal immigrants in the country you will find, although he or she will deny it, an open borders advocate.

At a debate I attended in 2004 at Brown University, Frank Sharry, currently the executive director of America’s Voice and an advocate for legalization of the illegal immigrant population, indicated he favored open borders because he made no distinction between legal and illegal immigrants and said he supported anyone who came here to work and seek a better life.

The House bills would, overall, do a better job than the Senate bill because of better internal enforcement that includes cooperation with local and state law enforcement and a better workplace employee verification program. However, neither would significantly reduce the inflow of illegal immigrants into the country.

A review of recent immigration history will put the issue in perspective.

The 1986 amnesty law — a bill signed by President Ronald Reagan that promised stricter enforcement of the country’s immigration laws while offering amnesty to many immigrants already in the country — failed because the enforcement features were not implemented; this led to massive fraud and a continuing inflow of illegal immigrants.

The U.S. Congress awoke from its slumber 10 years later and tried to correct the problems it authored in the first place. The House and Senate passed the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. One of its critical elements was the creation of an electronic workplace employee verification system.

The federal government proceeded at warp speed on implementation of what has come to be known as E-Verify and, now, 17 years later — Rip Van Winkle would be proud — they have in place a credible system that has the blessing of a very favorable U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services report.

The culprits in all this are our sleeping giant U.S. Congress and a lackadaisical executive branch, indifferent to enforcing the law.

To add a Bizarro element to this saga, a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision declared that this incompetent, indifferent, federal government has primacy in immigration policy, thus shoving aside attempts by local and state governments to defend themselves against the illegal immigrant invasion. Franz Kafka, meet Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

A colleague and I had a teleconference meeting with U.S. Sen. Angus King, and I met with Sen. Susan Collins. Both voted for S. 744

Collins is ambivalent about S. 744; King is all in for S. 744 and open borders, a conclusion that is undeniable after listening to his 13-minute speech delivered on the Senate floor just prior to the vote on the bill.

Based on my five trips to the southern border for border-watch participation and conversations with a colleague who is a retired Border Patrol agent living in northern Maine, the border security measures included in S. 744 are unlikely to secure our borders, and the bill would do little to stop the estimated 40 percent of illegal immigrants who are visa overstayers.

For those who point out that funding for S. 744 increased from $8.3 billion to an eye popping $46.3 billion in the final version, including the hiring of an additional 19,200 U.S. Border Patrol agents, I would remind them of the 17 years it took to develop the E-Verify system. How long will it take to get the funding and hire, train and deploy what would be a doubling of the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents?

A political game is being played, with Joe Six-pack (you and me) relegated to the nosebleed section of the arena, impotent observers at best.

At this point, the open borders crowd has the whip hand. Illegal immigrants continue to stream across our borders with an estimated 300,000 overstays annually, according to a 2010 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement report. Local enforcement is tepid at best, handcuffed in those cities, including Portland, that have declared themselves sanctuaries for illegal immigrants.

Quo Vadis, America?

Bob Casimiro of Bridgton is former executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Immigration Reform and is now a member of Mainers for Sensible Immigration Policy and the Minuteman Project.