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When my grandparents sailed into New York Harbor and caught their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, they made a silent pact with her: “Just give us a chance, and we will make you proud.” They willingly submitted to medical tests, registered — in some cases, under shortened or Anglicized names — suffered all manner of indignities, and committed themselves to a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice. Their pursuit of the American dream was made possible by the protections and opportunities granted by our laws. They were honored to abide by them. All of them. If my grandparents were alive today, they most certainly would feel kinship with anyone who crosses into our country searching for a better life. But they also would be horrified by the lawlessness at our borders and the concomitant threats to our national security and social-welfare programs. They, like most Americans, would demand action to solve the complex and serious threat of illegal immigration. A multifaceted problem such as illegal immigration requires a comprehensive solution. Obviously, as Congress has now adjourned, such a measure will not pass before the elections, but the lame-duck session in November will give Republicans in both houses an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and unite behind a meaningful compromise that most people can embrace. In fact, that compromise has been dangling before Lady Liberty’s outstretched arm all along. She’s ready to grab it. If only conservatives would understand that “comprehensive” does not mean “weak.” If only liberals would acknowledge that Americans who seek to protect our borders do not lack compassion. If only immigrant groups would appreciate that U.S. citizenship is a privilege, not an entitlement. And if only everyone would place national and economic security ahead of political interests. BORDER SECURITY Such a compromise would include the following elements: 1. Prioritization of border security by requiring security measures be in place by a certain date. It should not be too difficult to achieve consensus on the most appropriate and effective security measures. These include additional border-security agents, tougher enforcement, enhanced surveillance technology, an end to “catch and release,” and funds for barriers along the southern border, among others. The critical question is one of timing. A realistic and fixed implementation date would speak to the urgency felt by voters and give them a target for measuring success. It would establish border security as a high priority. House Republicans have tried to convey this sentiment with hearings and the passage of narrowly focused security bills. But without an enacted law, Americans will not take those efforts seriously, Congress will receive little credit, and we will be no more secure than we are today. 2. A guest-worker program that does not take effect until after the border-security implementation date. It is neither realistic nor advisable to ignore the 12-million-pound elephant in the room by refusing to address illegal immigrants already here. Members of Congress who oppose establishing any guest-worker program on the grounds that it constitutes amnesty are overlooking the security and economic implications. Currently, we have no idea who the illegal immigrants are, where they live, or where (or if) they are employed. A guest-worker program with all the requisite verification and tracking systems would bring people out of the shadows. We would have instant access to data that are essential to protecting our homeland. And we would be able to ensure that workers pay all of the taxes they owe on their earnings, thereby boosting federal revenues. The incentive for an immigrant to participate in such a program would be work at a decent wage and protection from deportation. This approach has the added benefit of preserving the economic structure that has brought prosperity to U.S. businesses, particularly in the agricultural, construction, and service sectors. Our robust economy depends on the immigrants in our work force. Dismantling this system at any time would be ill advised, but it would be especially counterproductive during an expensive and critical war on terror. It is prudent to delay implementation of a guest-worker program until the border-security measures are in place. Immigrant groups have argued that making the program contingent upon some sort of certification process is a loophole because certification may not occur or be possible. Setting a firm date for implementation would eliminate this concern. The temporary-worker proposal put forth by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) is an attempt at a thoughtful compromise. But by requiring prospective temporary workers to first return to their country of origin, it makes participation extremely difficult. People will elect to remain in anonymity if they are from faraway lands, do not have the means to travel, are afraid of the fate that may await them in their home country, or fear that they will not be permitted to re-enter the United States. As long as the perceived risk of participation is greater than the risk of staying hidden, illegal immigrants simply will not participate in a temporary-worker program. The sooner these individuals step into the daylight, the better. Our national and economic interests are best served by facilitating, not hampering, participation in a guest-worker program. PENALTIES, NOT AMNESTY 3. A swift and accurate employee-verification system with strong penalties for hiring illegal immigrant workers. Employers should face significant penalties for hiring undocumented immigrants. Depleting the market for illegal workers will serve as a deterrent to illegal passage into this country. It would be unfair and impractical, however, to impose such penalties without first funding and implementing an effective system that facilitates background checks and other means of swiftly verifying an individual’s status. Such a system may require biometric identification mechanisms and other advanced-technology solutions. Federal investment in these technologies is essential. 4. No path to citizenship for people who have entered this country illegally. One of the reasons so many Americans were outraged by the immigration demonstrations was that the protesters seemed to display a sense of entitlement. No one disputes that everyone, regardless of birthplace, race, gender, or creed, is entitled to be treated fairly and with respect. But demonstrators were demanding something more. By calling for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, they were insisting on special treatment. They were asking the United States to refrain from applying its laws to a select group of people. This, not the guest-worker concept, is amnesty. The demonstrators illogically argue that the longer an individual violates our immigration laws, the greater the justification for granting the privilege of citizenship. They often point to the desperate circumstances that force a person to cross the border under cover of darkness or force a woman to become pregnant and give birth to an “anchor baby” who might help her stay in the United States. They claim it would be cruel to separate families by enforcing our laws. Our response must be that our jails are full of sad stories of desperation and family separation. Yet, thankfully, we do not refrain from prosecuting someone who has committed an illegal act simply because he or she was driven to do so by hopelessness or because a child would be left without a parent. Although we recognize the tragedy of such circumstances, we as a society know that the consequences of the act are the direct result of the perpetrator’s decisions. The only right and compassionate response is to adhere to our fundamental principle of equal application and protection of the laws. An illegal immigrant who desires U.S. citizenship must follow the same rules that apply to everyone else. Congress had the best of intentions when it granted amnesty in 1986. Regrettably, that paving material has built a treacherous path, and we need to stop stumbling down it. Overall, the approach I describe is comprehensive in scope yet more protective of our national and economic security than anything Congress has considered thus far. I believe President George W. Bush would sign a bill based on this framework, and Democrats would vote “no” at their peril. What are we waiting for?
Cynthia E. Berry is a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Powell Goldstein, where she is chairwoman of the government relations practice group.

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