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Boston Herald: Coming to America - Legally: Critics of Immigration Reform Offering No Viable Alternatives

Op-Ed

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Boston Herald: Coming to America - Legally: Critics of Immigration Reform Offering No Viable Alternatives

By John McCain

Illegal immigration and our porous borders are problems that we have, to our shame, ignored for too long because it was too hard and politically risky to solve. But the problem has grown too acute and dangerous to ignore any longer. To do nothing now would be an unconscionable abrogation of our responsibilities to defend the security, prosperity and values of our country.

A country facing an enemy as malevolent as the enemy we face must have effective control of its borders. And we cannot prevent further waves of illegal immigration without drastically improving border security.

The most difficult problem is what to do about the 12 million or more undocumented workers who live and work here now. No critic of our bill has offered a serious proposal to round up all these millions, many of whom have children born in this country, and ship them back to their countries of origin.

Those undocumented workers who declare themselves, pass criminal background checks, prove their employment, pay fines, taxes, learn English and study American civics may be offered eventually, and I stress eventually, a path to citizenship.

Critics of the bill attack this as amnesty and a special path to citizenship that is denied to lawful immigrants. Both charges are false. Amnesty is what we gave in 1986, and it didn't work. It was unconditional forgiveness for breaking our laws.

Illegal immigrants broke our laws and they should pay a penalty for doing so. We impose fines, fees and other requirements as punishment. And if the path to citizenship we offer them is "special," it is because it is harder, longer and more expensive than the path offered to those immigrants who come here legally. Those undocumented workers who attain legal status are not automatically provided a green card and citizenship. The process could take as long as 13 years, and will cost them thousands of dollars, require them to learn English and understand our laws and culture, return to their country and get in the back of the line - not the front, not the middle, but the back of the line for a green card. That is a fair, practical and humane way of dealing with the problem of 12 million undocumented workers. And if someone objects to it, especially if they are a candidate for president, they should have the responsibility and courage to propose another way.

The situation as it currently exists is de facto amnesty. These people are here in numbers too large, diffuse and concealed to round up and deport, which even critics concede is impractical. They will stay here. They will work. And we won't have any idea how many of them are simply here to earn a living and how many are here planning an attack. It is a hard problem, and I understand that. But the choice is between doing something, imperfect but effective and achievable, and doing nothing.


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