It’s hard not to draw parallels between the two biggest stories in today’s headlines—a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and a punitive new immigration law in Arizona. While on some basic level most Americans care about the environment and immigration, it’s not until something really goes wrong that most people begin to pay attention and ask questions. Do we really have to see the smoke to realize something’s on fire?

The daily images and stories depicting fast moving oil leaks into the Gulf remind the average person that we need a better system for attaining energy and, clearly, a much better system for managing it. Similarly, the depictions of the boycotts and protests that accompany Arizona’s harsh new immigration law remind us that we need a better system for managing immigration.

Sadly, neither issue has received the appropriate level of urgency in Congress over the past several years—issues Congress has deemed “too heavy a lift” or “too hard to do.” Take health care and financial reform, for example—both of which reached a boiling point due to lack of federal oversight and out-of-date policies. Apparently we have to hit rock bottom before Congress takes action.

But America is paying attention now. A recent Gallup poll highlights the increased public attention to immigration—noting it has topped the budget deficit in being viewed as the most important problem the nation must face.

So what is Congress waiting for? How many other states need to fan the immigration flames before Congress begins to act? As we continue to see the bitter consequences of outdated infrastructure and policies, it’s clear that keeping America’s infrastructure working properly should be among Congress’s top priorities.

Photo by OnEarth Magazine.