There are few controversies that divide Americans as much as how to deal with illegal immigration — although our policies covering legal immigration have their own difficulties as well.

But the idea that there are millions of people living among us who have broken our laws and essentially gotten away with it outrages many, and rightfully so.

Still, this is an issue on which there is room for different views on how to solve the problem, even among those on the right side of the aisle.

One staunch conservative offering suggestions recently is Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican whose parents were Cuban immigrants.

Rubio, often mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate because of his views and Latino heritage, said in a January speech to a conference of the Hispanic Leadership Network in Miami that for Hispanics, “the issue of immigration is not a theoretical one, it’s not an issue of statistics, it’s not always even an issue of law and order. It’s an issue of their lives, and of the people they love.”

That’s because even the many Hispanics who are either naturalized or natural-born citizens almost always know someone close to them “who is being deeply impacted by a broken legal immigration system,” Rubio said.

He then laid out a number of ways in which that “broken system” impacts America.

Immigration, he said, is “a gateway issue to the No. 1 issue on the minds of people in this community, and that is economic empowerment.” It’s the reason, he said, that people come to the United States, why they work two jobs, why “your parents gave up their own hopes and dreams so that you could do the things they couldn’t, so that you could be what they could not be.”

But that economic opportunity is today “under assault” by a president who plays people against each other for political gain, telling them that “the only way to climb up the ladder is to pull others down.”

And, quite correctly, he added, “That language is common all over the world. You often find it in the third world. But it’s never been who we are … we have always been a nation of haves and soon-to-haves, a people who have made it and people who believe that given a chance they will make it too.”

However, the nation’s “broken” immigration system has made that harder than it needs to be, and that deprives the United States of valuable human capabilities, knowledge and talent that could build our country up.

Therefore, Rubio said, we need “a functional guest worker system” offering people visas to come here temporarily to work, and then reliably return home when that work is over.

And there is “immense bipartisan support” for the idea that “our immigration laws need to be enforced, that we need some sort of electronic, low-cost, enforceable verification system for employers (and) increased border security and ways to protect our borders.”

He’s right about that. A nation without borders is really no nation at all. But what about those already here illegally who have never entered into the system, even temporarily?

While Democrats have created “unrealistic and unreasonable expectations” about a general amnesty, Republicans “have used rhetoric that is harsh and intolerable, inexcusable” to demonize millions of people whose motivation for their crimes is that they wanted a better life for themselves and their children.

However, once the system has been fixed and the border brought under control (and those are huge tasks), addressing the estimated 11 million people here without permission can’t be solved by either a general amnesty or by deportation, he said. The first would offend too many Americans (including many Hispanics who obeyed the rules to get here), and the second is simply impossible.

So, he suggested, it might be possible that the young people among this group could be brought into society by creating a new category of “permanent resident” that would not be “citizenship.”

That is something far less than “amnesty” but still more humane — and more valuable to the country’s economic future — than present policies. We need to see these young people as potential resources, not liabilities.

What about older people? He is right that we cannot deport them all. However, we can deport the ones who commit other crimes, and recent news stories say many are leaving because they cannot find jobs in the current economy, a process called “self-deportation.”

Is this the full answer? No, because once the economy improves, the influx will swell again. And it still leaves millions here in limbo.

But it points in the right direction, because it understands that any solution begins with border control and immigration policy reform, and can only move on if it starts from there. 

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at:

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