Linda Chavez

In my view, Garcia and the hundreds of thousands of others who came illegally to the U.S. as children and have led exemplary lives here should be granted amnesty. There, I've said it, the dreaded A-word. But real amnesty requires Congress to enact a law, which will then be signed by the president. The Obama decision to issue waivers to so-called Dreamers (illegal immigrants who came here as children) doesn't accomplish the same thing.

Amnesty recognizes a broken law but forgives the transgressor for reasons of mercy, or in the case of young children, lack of agency on their part. Former President Ronald Reagan understood this when he granted amnesty to some 3 million illegal immigrants residing in the U.S. in 1986. If Garcia had received amnesty, he'd be a legal resident right now.

But amnesty is not enough -- and in the case of our current population of 11 million illegal immigrants, no politician will even consider a true amnesty. No law that does not include some punishment has a chance of passing.

What is needed is a change in overall immigration policy that would make Garcia's case impossible. Even without amnesty, Garcia should long ago have received permanent legal resident status. But our current system is hopelessly backlogged, and waits of two or more decades is the rule, not the exception, for people from Latin America and parts of Asia. The number of permanent visas available is too small to accommodate U.S. labor demands, much less the desire of people like Garcia to contribute their talents to our nation.

Unless Congress acts -- and soon -- we'll see more states like California that try to dig their ways out of the morass our immigration laws have created. Immigration policy is a federal responsibility, but Congress has abrogated this responsibility for the last decade. Keeping bad federal laws on the books doesn't advance the rule of law. It only encourages scofflaws and state usurpation of the federal role.

Linda Chavez is the author of "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal." To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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Linda Chavez

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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