"It's true that there would be fewer tax dollars expended on educating the children of illegal immigrants or treating them in local emergency rooms. But every careful study that has factored in what illegal immigrants and their adult children ultimately pay in taxes over their life spans and what they take out in services shows a net positive, although a small one.
"So we need to figure out a humane and practical way to deal with this problem -- not one that makes a good sound bite but has no chance of success. I am committed, if I become president, to get the best minds available to come up with some alternatives. I know that most Americans don't like the idea of rewarding law-breakers, so whatever solution we come up with will have to carry heavy penalties for those who've broken the law.
"But we also have to realize that the only way to prevent this problem from recurring when the economy starts booming again -- as it will on my watch -- is to fix our legal immigration laws. Our legal immigration system is broken. The reason so many people have sneaked into the country illegally or remained here after their temporary visas expired is that there are no legal avenues for them to come.
"We need a legal immigration system that is market-based, not one created by a bunch of bureaucrats and anti-population lobbyists. We need to make sure American workers get first crack at jobs -- but when they won't take certain jobs or can't meet the qualifications for others, employers need legal access to workers who can and will. And we need whatever system we create to be flexible enough to accommodate the business cycle, with visas going up during boom times and down during recessions.
"What I promise, my fellow Americans, is to stop pandering to ideologues and hatemongers and come up with a system that is good for America and Americans and reflects the principles and values that have made this country great."
If he had the courage to give such a speech, he'd do more than improve his standing with Hispanics. He'd show leadership befitting a president.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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