The immigration debate playing out in state legislatures and on Capitol Hill has been a long time coming to the media and political spotlight. Twenty years or more.

The Immigration Reform Act of 1986 was supposed to stem the tide of illegal immigration. Instead, the volume has increased and the number of those who are referred to as illegals or undocumented now numbers in the millions.

State legislatures, including Oklahoma, have considered dozens of bills on immigration. They range from denying public services to non-documented immigrants to offering them free tuition at colleges and universities. President Bush is pushing his "guest worker" plan but has run into opposition from conservatives who think it is too lenient.

High Country News, a bi-weekly publication "for people who care about the West," dispatched a team of writers and photojournalists to border cities to report the human struggles behind the immigration debate. Their report this month provides a snapshot of real-life dramas. Associate editor Jonathan Thompson writes of the forces of global supply and demand moving people north and the smugglers who are profiting from the trade. "Economic forces push and pull hundreds of thousands each year to hit the trail north, risking everything for a taste of opportunity," he writes.

Their writers talk of a Mexican tomato farm needing workers. But few want to pick tomatoes for the equivalent of $8.50 per day when they can make $10 per hour landscaping homes or hanging sheetrock in new Phoenix and Tucson subdivisions.

A huge border fence, a National Guard presence and more border patrol agents may slow the tide briefly but even then, thousands will cross the border seeking that opportunity. Altering the root cause of immigration will take years of policy changes in Washington and Mexico City.

This Week's Circulars