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Diane Dimond: America’s Immigration Mess — the Next Big Issue?

In the midst of national debates on fiscal cliffs and gun control, could this also be the time to tackle our immigration woes?

Let’s be honest and agree that U.S. immigration policy is a complete disaster. For too many decades, this country has ignored violations of our immigration laws, and now we have a real mess on our hands — an estimated 11 million people who have entered the country illegally and are living and working here under the radar.

Whose fault is it? There is plenty of blame to go around, so I suggest we don’t even go there anymore.

Presidents from both parties have declared they would do something to curb the flood of foreigners illegally entering the country. No meaningful changes occurred. Over the years, both political parties promised to punch into place an effective immigration policy. Yet Congress has still failed to pass laws that would truly get a grip on the problem.

Time to stop the blame game. Time to start figuring out what to do. Time for the one side to stop bellowing, “No amnesty!” and time for the other side to stop declaring, “No one is illegal.”

The cold, hard facts are clear: Millions of people knowingly and willingly broke our laws by entering the United States illegally or staying here after their visas expired. These illegal immigrants (call them undocumented workers, if it makes you feel better) knew that any day they could be caught, but they proceeded to have children — the very children they complain about being separated from once the United States begins deportation efforts. Look, an individual’s past bad choices are not the fault of the host government.

But let’s face it, these folks and their families are settled here, and a majority of them are otherwise law-abiding and hardworking. It would be impossible to catch, convict and send home more than 11 million people. Besides, we are a nation that prides ourselves on human rights — our nation was founded on that principal, and we boldly preach it to others.

So, what does our conscience tell us we should do with those immigrants who find America such a desirable place to live that they would break their backs for a poverty-level wage just to raise their families here? Calling for mass deportations isn’t a workable solution at this point, so give up the thought.

There are fresh indications that a president is once again going to push Congress for an overhaul of the immigration system. According to reports, President Barack Obama’s proposal will include a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million, but it apparently won’t be an easy journey. There will be provisions for fines, payment of back taxes and other obstacles that must be faced before the immigrant reaches the bona fide, taxpaying status of a U.S. citizen.

Obama’s proposed legislation is also said to include a guest worker program for future immigrants, extra visas for highly skilled foreigners to legally remain here and a mandatory nationwide employment verification system that would check every worker’s legal status before he or she is hired. (The so-called E-Verify system achieves this now but is strictly a voluntary program for employers.)

Would it be too much to ask the opposition party not to automatically hate Obama’s proposal? Could the politicians somehow find a way to sit down and peacefully study the suggestions before declaring the plan dead on arrival? Maybe after a bipartisan group of senators finishes hammering out its version of an immigration reform package, the two proposals could be calmly compromised into one great bill — for the good of the country.

Wouldn’t it be a refreshing change to see the toxic cloud of constant disagreement that envelopes Washington lift during this new year?

Years ago, when I first began this crime and justice column, I used to write passionately about the immigration mess. I remember, literally, hammering the computer keys to try to express my outrage at the massive numbers of immigrants who had so boldly sneaked across our borders, living in our towns and taking our jobs.

I’ve come to realize outrage gets us nowhere. Accepting reality can get us somewhere — if it is then coupled with a desire to truly find solutions to the country’s biggest problems. To me, the problem of illegal immigrants is sort of like the gun debate currently raging across America. There are too many to wish away (311 million guns, as I recently reported), so the only logical thing to do is figure out a way to more safely include them in society.

This is not an endorsement of the Obama plan. In fact, from what I’ve heard, Obama’s proposal might not be comprehensive enough. What’s the process for dealing with illegal aliens arrested for crimes committed on U.S. soil? Will the most violent be deported immediately or tried and imprisoned here first? What is to be done with those who re-enter the country? And, most important, what is the plan to secure our still porous borders? No program will work very well if you leave unguarded the northern and southern entry points to the country.

There will always be more questions than answers at the beginning of trying to tackle a major problem. But the choice is clear. We either do nothing and let the situation fester further, or we take steps to help those here illegally become taxpaying citizens. It could be a win-win for all concerned.

Diane Dimond is the author of Cirque Du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust. Contact her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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