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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Readers demand an immigration solution from a columnist — and may regret it

Columnists should not offer solutions to policy issues because having a stake in the debate makes it impossible to fairly assess plans without favoring your own.

Still, readers want to know my solution to the immigration crisis.

One wrote: “I read another article you wrote about the failures of President Biden’s immigration plans. While I may not disagree with your observations, I am still waiting for your solutions.”

It’s not that such readers actually value my opinion. Most of the time, they’re just trying to shut me up. Because I’m in the center, both liberals and conservatives want me to pipe down. I’ve excoriated Joe Biden for his atrocious handling of the U.S.-Mexico border — which includes expanding the punitive policies of President Donald Trump. In response, Biden defenders and Trump defenders alike take offense and demand to know what I would do differently.

Of course, I have my own 20-point plan. Doesn’t every American? The immigration debate brings out the inner policy wonk in everyone, though some proposals are better-thought-out than others. Immigration is one of those issues where not knowing or understanding much about the topic doesn’t disqualify you from having a strong opinion.

See: The Fox News lineup of prime-time hosts.

While many of the alternatives seem half-baked, my plan has spent plenty of time in the oven. It’s solid, and it’s a good omen that elements of it tick off the absolutists on both the right and the left. It begins by calling on Americans to do something they don’t like to do: Be honest about the “problem” we’re supposedly trying to solve.

With more members of Generation Z taking sabbaticals from the workforce, and more employers needing to replace them, the real “immigration problem” is that we don’t have enough immigrants.

That’s the kind of straight talk you get from a Mexican American journalist who has covered immigration from three states in the Southwest over three decades. I’ve seen this issue from every angle. And because I’m not hobbled by partisan loyalty, I see it clearly.

Another reader wrote: “You’re in an excellent position to design immigration policy. Please share your thoughts.”

My plan would go a long way toward securing the border, easing the refugee crisis, welcoming more immigrants legally, getting workers to fill jobs Americans won’t do and fixing a broken system.

Yet, recently, I recalled another reason I don’t like publicizing my plan: Whenever I put out my ideas, many readers mistakenly assume that I’m asking them to share theirs with me.

No, thanks. If you have an immigration plan, and it comes from the left (meaning it’s probably “woke” and impractical) or the right (likely cruel), keep it to yourself. I’ll do the same.

Even so, I will share what I consider to be the best proposal on my list and something I’ve never heard from anyone else:

Let’s accept that we’re not going to give immediate and automatic U.S. citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants. Instead, let’s give them the three things they say they want most: driver’s licenses so they can go to work and take kids to school, the ability to travel back and forth to home countries to visit relatives and a shield against deportation as long as they don’t commit crimes.

There would be no ban. If they want citizenship, they can pursue it on their own. But obtaining it wouldn’t be quick and easy, the way Democrats want it to be.

I bet conservatives are smiling. Their resistance to comprehensive immigration reform is about a reluctance to pay the piper. The Republican Party — which once preached a lovely sermon about taking responsibility for one’s actions — won’t take responsibility for its decades of picking on immigrants. When people say “citizenship,” Republicans hear “voting.” They can’t let millions of undocumented immigrants vote because the GOP would get the electoral spanking that is so overdue.

However, right-wingers will probably not look as kindly on what comes next. Because these newly legalized individuals would not immediately enjoy all the privileges of U.S. citizenship, including voting for their representatives in government, they should not have to pay taxes — local, state or federal. If they become citizens on their own, they can start anteing up then.

Consider it: No taxation without representation.

Say, that’s a catchy phrase. You could build an entire nation on a principle like that.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is crimscribe@icloud.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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