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Immigration fix not in the extremes

There’s one thing for certain concerning our nation’s policy toward immigration: It is broke and it needs fixing.

That’s the one point upon which most can agree. Unfortunately, there appears to be little else about the current - presently stalled - attempt at immigration reform by the Bush Administration that the parties can agree on. More distressing still, is that the issue has become so politicized.

On the one extreme, are those who would brand all undocumenteds as criminals and seek to have them all expelled, while creating an unbroken Berlin Wall to seal off the border, no matter the cost.

Conversely, there are others who would grant unconditional, across-the-board amnesty to those illegally in the country, allowing them to take full advantage of our welfare system while displacing American workers and potentially endangering our national security.

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The answer, we suspect, lies somewhere in between those two extremes. For those who believe illegals should be condemned as criminals, without hope of pardon, and summarily expelled, we have this to say: Get over it. They are here to stay.

The U.S.-Mexico border has always been porous - not surprising since California was originally part of Mexico - with the have nots from the south traveling north to work at unattractive jobs for less money than their American counterparts would accept. Unless the standard of living between the two nations improves, this reality will not change. Even if it were possible to deport the estimated 12 million illegals in our country, what would that do to our economy? The answer is simple. It would be catastrophic. Unthinkable.

There will be no true or lasting “reform” of the immigration system until there is a viable guest worker program in place that recognizes these workers’ undeniable contributions to our economy, without treating them as invaders, punishing them for being poor and forcing them to endanger their lives sneaking across deserts, through barbed wire or over walls. Have we learned nothing from the past? Is this the 21st century version of “The Grapes of Wrath?”

Unconditional amnesty is also not the answer. Neither is giving those illegally in this country unlimited access to health and welfare benefits depleting the system and burdening tax-paying Americans. A way must be found to provide incentives for those illegally here to “earn” legal status, so they can join the mainstream, sharing in its costs as well as its benefits. It’s only right.

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The bureaucrats keep talking about cracking down on employers hiring illegals. It’s time for them to enact legislation with teeth in that actually accomplishes that.

The latest “compromise” proposal being fought over in Congress doesn’t solve or realistically address immigration reform. We find one reform proposal, which would force guest workers to leave the country for a year after working here for two years before qualifying to work again, as distasteful and absurd.

But we do like talk of employing a merit-based system for future immigrants applying for permanent U.S. residency, which would award them points for attributes - job skills, work experience, education, ability to speak English, etc. - to create meaningful criteria in a step-by-step process to achieve U.S. citizenship.

The time to act is now. Get back to the bargaining table. Do whatever it takes to find a workable compromise that offers meaningful reform for illegal immigration. Millions of lives - and our economic and moral future - depend on it.