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Oglesby: Voters will punish those who block sensible solutions
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Here's hoping the holidays were as you hoped, even better. Even though I wasn't the best boy, Santa still found me. Let's hope 2011 will be even better in every way.

As we go into the New Year, I'm more optimistic about local and state governments. As for federal, I'm nervous but hoping and praying President Barack Obama and Congress can reach agreement on things that need to be done as they did in the lame-duck session. If they don't, our country will suffer and he's probably toast. And if they don't, which political party will voters blame - and join Obama in the toaster?

It'll be those the 2012 voters sense were most responsible for gridlock or damaging legislation. That, in turn, will depend on how effectively the politicians spin their actions and nonactions. They should serve like adults who know how and when to employ principled compromise.

Blocking pragmatic action on the illegal immigration problem may play well currently, but WILL (not can) have politically disastrous, long term results for Republicans in the not-too-distant future. I still tout one simplistic solution I strongly believe fits the bill for all sides. All could justly claim credit, not one party.

First: Realize border fencing is mostly ineffective and certainly expensive. The money wasted could be better used.

Second, though many illegal immigrants are criminals, most are hunting work and do good work, often in jobs even Americans who are actually drawing unemployment won't take. They do pay income and Social Security taxes on the required basis. And yes, they do use our medical facilities, especially more costly emergency rooms, in higher percentages.

First, require that every foreign person, including those here illegally, who get citizenship must be able to speak, write and understand English. Now to the rest: When they can meet the first requirement, grant citizenship to requesting immediate families of soldiers killed in the service and uniforms of our country. Immediate families would include spouses, children and parents of the fallen.

To earn citizenship, a foreigner must have been in the country 10 years. Grant those still serving our country in uniform (or covertly) and their immediate families the number of years they have do served toward the 10-plus an automatic green card for the balance of the time. These two categories won't be large and will show our appreciation for their service to our country.

For a given time after passage of the bill, give all the remaining illegal immigrants in the country who haven't been convicted of a felony and can prove they have been employed (by tax returns, payroll records, etc.) the right to apply for citizenship the legal way. Given the shortage of administrative immigration officials, this given time probably should be at least a year, probably longer.

When they apply and pay an application fee, their time requirement for citizenship starts running, being added to the time they can prove they have been here credited toward the 10 years and granted automatic green cards. They still must be able to speak, read and understand English.

Most illegal immigrants know others here illegally. Also require them to name any others they know to be illegal, with the penalty if found not doing so of having their applications voided and automatically put in the category of others who did not come forward. This should be incentive enough.

After that given time, any remaining illegal immigrant will be deported when caught. If they return, they'll serve a mandatory prison sentence and then be deported again. It's a mandatory life sentence if they return illegally after that.

This should be incentive enough for those most likely to make good, productive citizens to apply within the given time frame. If this isn't pragmatic, I don't know what is.

Now let's get this New Year under way.

Ted Oglesby is retired associate and opinion page editor of The Times. You can reach him at P.O. Box 663, Gainesville, GA 30503. His column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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