Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and conservative attorney and policy wonk Clint Bolick argue that instead of throwing $3.7 billion at the current immigration emergency, Congress should act more deliberately:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush-AP Photo/El Nuevo Herald, Hector Gabino Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (Hector Gabina/Associated Press via El Nuevo Herald)

House Speaker John Boehner has called for the deployment of National Guard troops to reinforce border security, a step Texas Gov. Rick Perry set in motion this week. Legislation by Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake and Rep. Matt Salmon —all from Arizona, to which thousands of the children have been sent—have introduced bills to treat all illegal immigrants entering through Mexico in the same way, thus allowing for their immediate return to their native countries. The McCain-Flake legislation also would increase by 5,000 the number of humanitarian visas available in each of the countries producing the diaspora—Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras—thus providing an incentive for individuals to stay in their home country and pursue immigration legally.

Similarly, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and his Democratic House colleague Rep. Henry Cuellar have proposed legislation that would improve the 2008 anti-trafficking law and expedite the hearing process for unaccompanied migrant children.

That should get done urgently, but it can’t stop there. They recommend we “pursue interdiction strategies that head off illegal immigration before it gets to our border” and transform the current legal immigration system based on family unification to one “economically driven—for example, looking for those whose skills and drive will make a difference—in our national interest and true to our immigrant heritage.”

If immigration reform opponents could stop hyperventilating for a moment, they’d realize this is a border-security-first plan — and one without citizenship. That was the idea put forth in the book Bush and Bolick authored as well. Their effort may fall on deaf ears right now, but in essence they are rewriting the framework for comprehensive immigration reform. Get the border security right. Stop. Evaluate. Work on all aspects of interdiction — and then reform what is left. We will at that point need to address those here illegally. But a large bipartisan majority now favors a legalization, but not citizenship, plan. The current crisis has given Republicans the momentum to get done first what they care about most — border security. Bush and Bolick do a service in explaining how that would work and then what follows. It is “comprehensive” in a sense that all topics will get covered, but not all at once. That won’t please the staunch immigration reform advocates (with whom I agree), but it shouldn’t freak out conservatives of good will. It’s what democratic compromise would look like.