Mike Pence

Last year, President Bush set out his views on immigration reform to the American people, saying there must be "a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant, and a program of mass deportation."

I agree with the president that a rational middle ground can be found between automatic citizenship and mass deportation, but the amnesty bill that was defeated in the Senate was not the middle ground.

I opposed the Senate immigration bill because of its core fallacy that millions of illegal immigrants could get right with the law without having to leave the country. For most Americans, and me, that is amnesty and I cannot support it.

Different from last year's Senate compromise, this Senate bill included provisions that appeared to require illegal immigrants to leave the country, but that simply was not the case. Even several major news organizations characterized this "touchback" provision as mandatory.

But the Senate bill only included a requirement that Z Visa holders return to the U.S. Consulate in their country of origin if they wanted to apply for a green card, which was strictly optional. Under the Senate bill, illegals could obtain a Z Visa, which was renewable indefinitely, simply by paying a fine and passing a background check. Z Visa holders never were required to leave the country to get right with the law.

The purpose of requiring illegal immigrants to leave the country to get right with the law is not simply to do a quick "touchback." That is a gimmick. The purpose of leaving the country to get right with the law is to require people to apply for the legal right to enter the United States in the same way all other visa applicants apply to come into the United States.

If a person applies from outside of the country and is denied, then the person does not need to be deported because he or she is already gone. If the person, however, applies from outside the country and is accepted, which would mean the person passed a background check and a health screening and has a job, that person has corrected his or her original illegal act and has been granted legal entry to America without amnesty.

While I strongly opposed the Senate immigration bill, I am not against every version of immigration reform. Last year, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and I proposed a no-amnesty solution to the illegal immigration crisis, and I believe it still holds promise if Congress makes another attempt at immigration reform this year.

Any future effort at immigration reform must reflect the following four-step process:

Mike Pence

Congressman Mike Pence was elected to Congress in November 2000 and was re-elected to represent the Sixth Congressional District for a fifth term in 2008. Congressman Mike Pence is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.