How to solve illegal immigration

Of all the issues Congress confronts, the most solvable and the one that would do the most to help our nation grow and prosper — with the possible exception of energy — is immigration reform.

We are a nation that has always drawn much of its strength from having people come here and add to the energy and prosperity of the country. The immigrants who have chosen to make the difficult and challenging choice to move to America have often been some of the most productive citizens of the countries they left behind.

They are, by nature, driven people who were willing to take the risk of pulling up roots and moving. As a result, the United States has, for the most part, gotten the benefit of talented and committed citizens who have raised our culture and our standard of living.

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Our national policy should continue to encourage immigration. This is why we need an immigration policy that deals with the reality of our times and continues to reinvigorate our nation by bringing in new people.

Yet for reasons purely political and counterproductive, a reasonable immigration policy has been sidetracked by the desire of both Democratic and Republican officeholders and candidates to score points with groups that have no interest in effective policy but simply have single-issue concerns that have turned into non-debatable hyperbole.

It is not rocket science to know how to set up an effective immigration policy. The parameters are clear. The policy needs to encourage legal immigration that helps our nation prosper.

There are five steps to doing it:

• First, we need to secure the borders. Although progress has been made, the border with Mexico where most illegal immigrants cross is still not secure. It is inexcusable that the resources and technology needed to stop the flow are not in place. All it takes is funding and commitment.

• Second, there needs to be an effective and friendly guest-worker program. This allows people who need work to come here where there are jobs not being done by Americans. 

• Third, once we have an effective guest-worker program, there needs to be a dramatic increase in surveillance and prosecution of businesses that employ people who are not here legally. There should be a significant price to pay for an employer that exploits people and encourages people to enter the country illegally.

• Fourth, there needs to be a new regime for attracting talented people to come here and stay here. We should say to the best and the brightest around the world that if they wish to come to America, we are interested in having them come. If they are already studying here, we are interested in having them stay. Instead, we say the opposite.

As Bill Gates says, every time he hires a talented individual from another country to work here it benefits America two ways. First, the individual usually ends up being a center around whom jobs are created, and second, it keeps him or her from being an overseas competitor.

• Fifth, we need to deal in a humane and reasonable way with the millions of people who are already here illegally. If they have acted inappropriately while here, then we should send them back to their native lands, but obviously that would be a small number of people.

We cannot deport millions of people, most of whom are hardworking and living quiet, orderly lives. We also cannot allow them, as a result of their illegal entry, to become citizens. This would violate the basic premise of following the rule of law that is a key standard of citizenship.

But there is a logical, fair and reasonable resolution to this conundrum. It is to allow these people, after they have agreed to some reasonable action, either through community service or fines, to compensate for their violation of the law when they entered the country to obtain a “blue card.” This blue card would give them legal status but not citizenship.

It is time to push aside those in the political arena who wish to use immigration primarily as an election tool and do not seek or tolerate rational action. It is time to move forward with a policy that will make us more competitive, add to our economy and our culture and continue to lift our nation and give us the unique strength that comes from being a country built on the character of the people who immigrate here.

Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Foreign Operations. He also is an international adviser to Goldman Sachs.