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Americans Must Come Together to Address the Problem of Illegal Immigration

[1]Californians are on the front line of the immigration debate in America. As such, California has the most to gain from sensible immigration reform and the most to lose from the failed status quo. It’s no surprise that the rest of the nation is looking to California for leadership on this issue.

In a post 9-11 world, illegal immigration is more dangerous than ever. And yet, legal immigration is no less important to America’s economic success. If the next great inventor lives in India, China or Mexico today, we should welcome that inventor coming to America legally to create jobs and prosperity here. If a segment of our economy has a shortage of American workers, then we should look across our borders for guest workers who can help American businesses succeed by working here legally, but without full U.S. citizenship. Finally, our doors should always be open to honest and well-intentioned people facing the terror of political oppression in their homelands. Closing our doors to legal immigration would be counter to everything our nation stands for.

But our nation also stands for the rule of law. Our porous borders have allowed millions of illegal immigrants to live in our country. Most are hardworking people who chose to break the law to find a better life for themselves and their families. Sadly, some are here for criminal reasons, like smuggling drugs.

Illegal immigration burdens our local economy and law enforcement, causing enormous hardships. It diminishes the services Californians pay for with the tax dollars they sacrifice to the state, while allowing illegal workers to escape paying some taxes. Ultimately, illegal immigrants live in the shadows and fail to participate fully in American life, something that hurts us all.

What has bothered Latinos for too long is the harsh rhetoric around the immigration debate. Too often, the debate has been tinged with hurtful words signaling intolerance or worse to many Latinos. For other Americans, the debate has lacked real recognition of what illegal immigration threatens to do to our society and national identity. Both sides are often deeply at odds.

In the end, we must have a thoughtful conversation with each other about the real issues and solutions. California’s rich Latino heritage cannot be simply dismissed, nor can the real safety and security concerns of an unsecured border be ignored. We should all embrace America’s cultural progress and diversity, but we can never forget that American citizenship is central to our nation’s future. We are successful because we are both a nation of immigrants and of laws.

During the Republican primary for governor, I took what I deeply believed was a thoughtful course. I strongly opposed amnesty for illegal immigrants, but also voiced my opposition to Proposition 187 and Arizona’s new immigration law because I don’t believe these are the right policies for California. I supported a strong U.S. border but also supported a guest worker program as the best way to get the workforce we need into a legal, tax-paying and temporary status. I was attacked for taking these positions, but I held my ground, because it was the right thing to do. California does not need divisive laws that will be litigated for years and do little to solve the problem.

We must find a fair and practical solution to the status of the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. But this can only occur after we have convinced Californians and the American people that the federal government has finally delivered on its promise to secure the border. Until that point, there can be no effective immigration reform. In the short term, I agree with President Obama and many Republicans in Congress that deploying the National Guard should be an option to augment the resources we currently have at the border.

In this race, my Democratic opponent, Jerry Brown, has said very little about most issues, including immigration. However, from what he has said, former Governor Brown appears to share many of my positions on immigration. He, too, is against Proposition 187 and opposes Arizona’s new immigration law. Former Governor Brown joins with me to oppose driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. He has endorsed tougher sanctions against employers who hire illegal immigrants and spoken out against sanctuary cities, and he opposes blanket amnesty that would grant full-citizenship rights without first requiring illegal immigrants to pay a fine and learn English.

Clearly, when examining our positions on immigration, there is very little over which Jerry Brown and I disagree. Latinos seeking a candidate who supports amnesty for illegal immigrants won’t find one on the gubernatorial ballot this year.

I believe that the real choice for Latinos in this election is over which candidate is going to be better at creating jobs and fixing our education system. And on these issues, Jerry Brown and I could not be more different.

I know that for the Latino community, excellent public schools and a state full of good jobs are the key to seeing the next generation reach the American dream. Unlike Jerry Brown, I have a plan to address both.

On education, I have the courage and independence to stand up to the entrenched union interests that too often stand in the way of fixing our schools. The union bosses sadly forget that schools should be about helping classroom teachers get what they need to really teach our children, not what is best for the powerful teachers’ unions.

As a leader from California’s business community, I also know how to create good jobs. I know why jobs are leaving California and I know exactly the steps to take to keep and increase the number of good jobs in our state. Jerry Brown has a long history of supporting polices that have cost California jobs. In his second term as Governor, Brown’s policies resulted in a near doubling of the unemployment rate.

I believe that by the end of this campaign a majority of Latinos is going to agree that our state can’t afford to turn the page back to another failed Jerry Brown governorship. A Whitman administration will always be open to the Latino community. Working together, we can build A New California where jobs are plentiful, our schools lead the nation in excellence, and every Californian has the opportunity to succeed.

Meg Whitman is the Republican candidate for California Governor. She is the former president and chief executive officer (CEO) of eBay, Inc., an online auction site.