Al Cardenas

America has lived with a broken immigration system for at least two decades. It’s wreaked havoc in our border states and created a frustrating lawlessness that is untenable.

It's true that our country embarked on a discussion of civil rights from the late fifties through the early seventies, but for 20 years we have failed to pass any meaningful immigration reform legislation.

While there are myriad proposals floating through Washington, D.C., with regard to immigration reform, they fall into three general categories:

· Those who rant and pledge to oppose all proposals because they stand for “the rule of law.” Sadly, they prefer to live with the reality of a broken system: 12 million undocumented individuals in our midst and a President refusing to enforce existing laws by executive fiat rather than to do what is right. Doing nothing and maintaining the status quo is actually the most liberal of all positions to take in this debate.

· Those who prefer to tackle these challenges on a piecemeal basis. They want to break down the immigration debate into a number of separate components, starting out with those ideas with the strongest chance of passage -- such as the DREAM Act or the STEM Jobs Act.

· Those who are willing to put on the table multiple ideas for discussion and push for passage of one final reform package. This group is far from homogeneous – including their policy prescriptions for the 12 million undocumented aliens.

There is no chance of passage of any measure unless leaders come to an agreement on whether they will be for piecemeal or comprehensive immigration reform. I prefer the latter but agree that either/or is better than stalemate.

I do believe that Republicans and conservatives can muster enough support within our ranks if presented with a bill which would include the major “rule of law” provisions: border security, E-Verify, stronger penalties for illegal entry or overstay in our country and mandatory, tamper-proof, photo IDs for everyone.

Let me be clear – I do not support “amnesty.” There should be no path to citizenship for those already illegally here, other than a modified version of the Dream Act proposal and the STEM graduates. But, I do support a reasonable assimilation program combined with strict laws barring access to our generous safety net programs.

Any legislation up for final passage must ultimately meet a simple test: does this proposal put America’s interests first? Currently only 5% of our immigrants are selected on the basis of the skills and education that they bring to America. That is not fair to our country -- nor smart policy -- and it needs to change.

Al Cardenas

Al Cardenas is Chairman of the American Conservative Union.