California has the most to gain from sensible immigration reform, and the most to lose from the failed status quo. We need common-sense solutions to the problem of illegal immigration while preserving the many benefits our state derives from legal immigration.
Too often, the rhetoric surrounding this issue has been overly divisive and disrespectful to Latino American citizens. The country needs to have a thoughtful debate about how we stop the tide of illegal immigration that strains budgets and angers taxpayers. But the immigration debate must take place in a measured way that reflects our national aspirations toward tolerance, hope and opportunity.
As a Republican, I believe it's important to both continue our rich tradition of protecting the rule of law while diligently reaching out to the millions of Latinos who share our values.
While I am a strong proponent of legal immigration, I am 100% opposed to granting amnesty to immigrants who entered the country illegally. It is the wrong policy for California, it is the wrong policy for America, and it is grossly unfair to those immigrants who have followed the law to obtain legal status.
The truth is we are always going to have a problem with illegal immigration as long as there is a demand for undocumented labor. We need to build an "economic fence" with a strong e-verification system that holds employers accountable for only hiring documented workers. The lure of well-paying jobs is the ultimate magnet attracting illegal immigrants to our state. To remove it, we have to give employers the tools they need to do the right thing, and then we must strictly enforce the law.
We also need to crack down through legislation on sanctuary cities like San Francisco that shield illegal immigrants from federal immigration laws.
But the real key to this issue rests in the hands of Congress and the president. The bottom line is we need more federal Border Patrol resources at the Mexican border. The California congressional delegation needs to work together with other border-state representatives to get something done on border security once and for all.
California's governor must also work hard to ensure that the state is reimbursed for the costs of incarcerating illegal immigrants in our prisons. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and our powerful congressional delegation need to be pushed to use the purse strings they control to repay California for what it is owed.
Taken together, these steps would make a significant difference in reducing the burdens of illegal immigration without casting unneeded and discourteous aspersions on Latino American citizens and driving them away from the Republican Party.
I have been criticized for opposing Proposition 187, which was on the California ballot in 1994. It is true that I am opposed to cutting off public education and healthcare services to immigrant children. I do not believe that kids should be punished for the sins of their parents.
But I do understand the frustration in California that led to the passage of Proposition 187. Our schools have class sizes that are too big. We need comprehensive reform of our K-12 education system to drive money out of Sacramento and down to local school districts. Our education resources must be dedicated to the advancement of our children, not wasted on bureaucracy.
We must ensure that our children receive a world-class education so they can compete for jobs in the high-growth sectors of the economy, and that means standing up to the education establishment and elevating performance standards. And we must ensure that English is taught to all children in our schools.
The immigration issue touches many of California's core priorities, and it must be a priority of the state's governor.
Meg Whitman is the former president and chief executive of EBay and a Republican candidate for governor.