The mass of humanity – some half-million people gathered in Los Angeles this weekend to protest proposed federal immigration legislation – sends a powerful message. Not only is this an issue of pressing national importance, but it is also one over which we are bitterly divided. From those who would throw the borders wide open to those who would seal them shut, public opinion on immigration in America stretches a wide gamut. We see it in the protests, in the Minutemen movement, in the U.S. Senate, where members struggle with a severe, restrictionist policy approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. There can be no doubt that the debate has reached a boiling point. And the drain illegal immigration puts on public services, the danger it poses to national security and the very real exploitation it permits all demand attention. But what is the answer? AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE‘Mame,’ ‘Hello, Dolly!’ composer Jerry Herman dies at 88 The House’s response, House Bill 4437, is a non-starter. Not only will the Senate not approve it in its current form, but President George W. Bush would almost surely veto it. And rightfully so. Tougher laws alone will never stem illegal immigration – the demand for the better life America has to offer is simply too great. Nor will simple feel-good answers like amnesty programs do the trick. Amnesty solves nothing. It rewards law-breaking, thus encouraging more of the same. The answer must lie in a sensible middle ground. And that’s the challenge for Bush – to try to lead and unite members of Congress behind a pragmatic, thoughtful approach. To reduce illegal immigration, America must find a way to safely and prudently expand legal immigration. The key is to connect the privilege of entering the U.S. with real responsibilities – the responsibility to be self-sufficient, to pay taxes, to be properly identified, to abide by the law. The same holds true for dealing with the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants who are already here. They must be offered a chance to obtain legal status, provided they show a commitment to live by these same standards. This way, America can continue its tradition of welcoming newcomers without becoming a haven for criminals, cheats or terrorists. Law enforcement could focus on the small number of immigrants who pose a threat, and not the vast majority who come only seeking to make a living. And immigrants could come to the U.S. safely and legally, without putting themselves at the mercy of coyotes or risking exploitation. As the Senate considers legislation this week, it has an opportunity to address a critical issue that has been ignored for too long. A sensible middle ground can be reached, but only if Bush delivers on his promise to become the “uniter.” If we can’t unite behind an immigration policy that moves us forward, how are we ever going to find the common ground on the war, the economy, health care and all the other issues that divide us?160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!