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Go slowly to immigration solution Complex challenge demands careful compromises, not extreme reactions

Washington's current push for a fast-track solution to a problem festering for decades ought to slow down for the careful and measured debate it needs. Illegal immigration is a complex issue that will have an immediate impact on 12 million immigrants, and a longer-term effect on the American economy. It deserves more than a polarized political solution in the run up to the midterm congressional elections this fall.

The extremes in this issue are the House-passed criminalization measure, which would make it a felony to be an illegal immigrant and levy stiff penalties for hiring one, and a total amnesty that made little sense when it was last beaten back just before 9/1 1 and makes no sense now. But somewhere between those positions is a sensible policy that provides rules, but not rejection, for those who still see a better life in America.

Nations have the right to control their borders, and one targeted by terrorists has to tighten those controls. America, as a land dedicated to the rule of law, also has no business selectively applying the immigration laws it already has, or worse yet simply ignoring them. Nor is such a complete amnesty approach fair to those who applied for immigration under those laws in the hope that America will give them a chance, and in the expectation that America will not give preference to those who just seized that chance for themselves, illegally.

But there is also a deep reality that demands recognition -- the fact that there are millions of illegal aliens here already as integral parts of the American economy, especially in the Southwest and West. Many of them fill low-paying, low-stature jobs businesses don't want to pay Americans enough to take, in part because immigrants will. And they are here in such numbers that mass deportations would be impossible and the court system would be overwhelmed with felony prosecutions.

Because this problem has been allowed to develop unhindered for so long, an extreme solution is likely to cause economic and societal chaos. The Senate needs to take the time to consider the issues carefully, listen to the public debate and find a compromise that acknowledges how deeply illegal immigrants have been integrated into this nation. It needs to deal with them humanely, and offer an eventual path to full citizenship for those who are willing to work not just for wages but toward becoming an American.

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