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As a lifelong West Texan, I have seen the struggles our communities face with illegal immigration. Our immigration system is broken, and the status quo must not continue.

A step-by-step approach to immigration reform should consist of three parts, starting with securing the borders and enforcing current laws, then modernizing our immigration rules, and deciding what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already in our country.

Border security and enforcing existing laws must be starting points for any discussion about immigration reform. We cannot make lasting reforms without first ensuring that every immigrant enters our country lawfully. It is in America's best interest to know exactly who and what is coming across our borders.

As we secure the entire border, we must also design a new set of policies to drive our immigration laws. Today, the diversity lottery, arbitrary quotas and a bewildering range of visas do not always put our national interests first. We should prioritize the immigration of high-skilled entrepreneurs who will grow our economy through innovative research and creating new businesses. We should encourage the best and the brightest of the world to immigrate to our shores and share their talents.

It is also important to include a guest worker plan for agricultural workers and others doing the low-skill jobs that Americans have shown that they are unwilling to fill. The guest worker program should have no bearing on permanent immigration or citizenship for any enrolled worker. It would only allow an enrolled worker the opportunity to earn a living for their families when and where there is work that needs to be done, and these workers should not be allowed to receive welfare or other federal benefits.

Finally, as we consider what to do with the 11 million immigrants who are already here, amnesty cannot be an option. Each year, millions of people from around the world apply to immigrate to the United States in hopes of making a better life for themselves and their family. They all follow the rules, and almost all of them are turned away or have been waiting for years for approval.

Allowing the illegal immigrants to step in front of these lawful applicants is not only unfair to those who have been waiting but rewards illegal behavior. Current illegal immigrants must face penalties for their actions and wait at the back of the line – back behind everyone else who followed the rules. If they have committed other illegal acts other than being in the country without documentation, they should not be allowed to get in the line at all.

America has and will always be a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws. The courage and drive that it takes to uproot a life and replant it in a foreign land is central to our identity as Texans and Americans. But that does not mean that we do not need a comprehensive, well-enforced immigration policy.

As we work on immigration reform, it is important that we never forget that immigrants are real people, many of whom have illegally entered and remained in American in search of a better life for their families. We should not begrudge them for seeking a better life, but we should never forget that their better life does not need to come at the expense of the American worker or taxpayer.

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