It is only a month into the 114th Congress and it is no surprise there is already trouble within the GOP ranks over how to handle immigration. As the Wall Street Journal rightly pointed out, “the only winners of GOP dysfunction will be Mr. Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.” Listening to some of the rhetoric, you could almost believe that some within the GOP caucus think anything short of capital punishment or complete expulsion of all illegal immigrants is “amnesty.” So what is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to do?

To state the obvious, McConnell needs to convince Senate Republicans that they are not going to get everything they want in a bill. President Obama’s executive actions are a reason to pass immigration reform, not a reason not to. And the last thing we need is for all funding for the Department of Homeland Security to be cut off because Congress can’t reach a compromise. Allowing DHS funding to expire would have the equivalent effect of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) shutting down the government over Obamacare in 2013. And, as my friend, the former governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour says, “You don’t learn much from the second kick of a mule.” If DHS funding expires, it will hurt Republicans and help the Democrats. Period.

Why is this so hard for Republicans? Bear with me. We need an effective immigration system that, first and foremost, secures our border. And, when we talk about “securing our border,” that includes effective enforcement of our visa laws. Remember, about 40 percent of illegal immigrants in the United States actually entered the country on a legal visa, then just didn’t leave when their visa expired. We also have to quit measuring border security by how much money we spend. We need measurable enforcement metrics, with strict consequences if the results don’t meet the standards set.

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And while we’re at it, it is irrational to think we are going to deport or jail 11 million people who are currently in the country illegally. For reference, 11 million people is roughly the population of Ohio.  The best we can do is treat these illegal immigrants like anyone else who has committed a non-violent crime. They should have to meet strict requirements (such as admitting their crime, paying a fine, paying taxes, providing for themselves, etc.) before they are allowed to stay in the country legally for a probationary period.  And remember, with an aging population, we do need more workers.  Republicans should be for an increase in the number of H-1B and other visas for highly skilled workers, as well as for a flexible guest worker program for other essential workers, in areas like agriculture. We can’t pretend these needs don’t exist.

And, oh by the way, for what it’s worth, nothing could be worse than our current failed immigration system. Doing nothing is doing more harm. The status quo is not such where doing nothing is better than passing what is possible. Until Republicans get to an honest place on immigration, we will continue to act in a way that benefits our political opponents. The fact is, the Democrats in the Senate won’t sign on to any Republican legislation that’s mostly about attacking Obama’s executive actions on immigration. But hardliners in the Republican Party say they won’t accept anything less.

The feud over immigration reform is alienating voters from the Republican Party. The mainstream media will make excuses for Democrats until they are blue in the face, but Republicans don’t have that same layer of protection. Democrats can get away with making statements like those from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who told Politico that Democratic votes to block the Republican legislation to fund the DHS isn’t actually filibustering because, “We’re not just stopping things to stop it. We feel that we’re actually being constructive.”  Sound familiar? Isn’t that what Republicans were blasted for when they were in the minority? But here we are. Republicans need to tread carefully, make good decisions and pass something — or the 114th Congress could hurt the GOP in the run-up to 2016.

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