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Neither mass deportations, nor mass citizenship

When it comes to fixing our nation’s illegal immigration problem, we face two serious problems: One is plugging the gaping holes on the enforcement side; the other is figuring out what to do with those who are already here in the U.S. illegally, many of whom have been our neighbors, friends and co-workers for many, many, years.

As to the second problem, anyone wanting a seat at the table to resolve this issue has to acknowledge that this nation will never support the inhumanity of a mass deportation of an estimated 12 million people, many of whom were brought here as children with no say in the matter.

That said, in any immigration reform bill that Congress might consider, the first priority must be to “stop the bleeding” — meaning tough enforcement at our porous borders.

The Gang of Eight Senate bill wasn’t strong enough on the enforcement side, making it a nonstarter in the House. However, establishing some new form of legalization or documented status — not citizenship with voting rights — for many of those in the U.S. illegally but who are otherwise productive members of our communities, is doable and worth pursuing.

As Reynaldo Robledo, co-owner of Roberto’s Taco Shops, noted over the summer, “I don’t think we need to rush to make people here illegally citizens. They want to be able to live here and work, but not everybody wants to be a citizen.”

So let’s take full-blown citizenship off the table for now and just focus on establishing tough but fair criteria for allowing certain families and individuals to continue living and working here under some kind of legal status.

Then let’s see if the federal government is really and truly serious about sealing our borders and enforcing existing immigration laws. Because at this point, Americans who have watched the federal government look the other way as the illegal immigration problem continued to get worse and worse have no reason to trust that “this time” will be any better.

And part of any such stepped-up enforcement must include full implementation of a comprehensive electronic verification system that will make it more difficult to hire individuals who enter the country illegally without imposing an undue compliance headache on employers.

Once the federal government has demonstrated that the enforcement side is real and not just lip service, sometime down the road we can have a new discussion on the possibility of extending earned citizenship — including tough penalties and rigid requirements — that doesn’t set back those who are already waiting in line.

Immigration reform in the U.S. is a triage situation. We need to do first things first — not everything all at once — if we want to do it right and save the patient.

Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a conservative grass-roots advocacy organization. He can be reached at www.MuthsTruths.com.