NAVARRETTE: The price illegal immigrants should pay

  • FILE - U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. pauses during a press briefing at a hotel in Jerusalem, in this Jan. 7, 2013 file photo. Paul is endorsing a pathway to citizenship for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants in a speech to be delivered Tuesday morning March 19, 2013 to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a significant move for a favorite of tea party Republicans who are sometimes hostile to such an approach. (AP Photo/Aron Heller, FILE)

There are elements of the immigration reform debate that are complicated. But the three questions at the center of it are quite simple.

Did the 11 million illegal immigrants who are currently in the United States do something wrong?

If we can agree that they did, shouldn't they have to acknowledge the wrongdoing and make amends?

And, if they are allowed to remain in the United States legally, isn't it only fair that they "go to the back of the line" because millions of folks are playing by the rules and trying to enter the country the right way?

These are the questions that vex the "Gang of Eight" — a bipartisan group of senators trying to cobble together an immigration reform bill that gives illegal immigrants the chance at a better life without giving away too much. The senators seem to think that "13" is their lucky number. According to media reports, they would give illegal immigrants probationary legal status right away, with the chance of earning a green card in 10 years and U.S. citizenship in another three years. That's 13 years to go from "illegal immigrant" to "U.S. citizen." About right.

Unfortunately, in this debate, simple questions do not always have simple answers.

Some illegal immigrants did do something wrong. They crossed a border without permission or overstayed a visa. Despite what restrictionists like to think, they're not all criminals; immigration law is largely made up of civil statutes, not criminal ones. Yet despite what open border enthusiasts like to think, it cannot be denied that, on the way into this country, these people wiped their feet on our system of laws. A lot of Americans are steamed over this fact, and they should be.

Meanwhile, about 1.5 million young people — a little more than 10 percent of the undocumented — didn't do anything wrong. They were brought here as children by their parents. But let's not be naive. The fact that they didn't choose to come here doesn't mean that — while they were growing up in the United States — they didn't choose to break other laws such as driving without a license or taking a job by producing a phony Social Security card.

This is common sense. Yet, many immigration activists at the grass roots refuse to concede that most illegal immigrants did something wrong, and that there needs to be restitution before there can be reform.

Right-wingers aren't the only ones who oppose a path to citizenship. Some left-wingers do too, for different reasons.

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