The decades-old debate on illegal immigration has been renewed with President Trump’s executive order of Jan. 25 — “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements.”

The order sets administration policy on illegal immigration. In short, it seeks to detain those suspected of violating immigration law, to expedite their claims and to quickly remove those whose legal claims have been rejected.

While they work hard at jobs “Americans” often don’t want, by their numbers the undocumented workers have changed the dynamics of the entire U.S. workforce. Their repatriation would have a sizable impact on our economy, leaving many industries without viable replacements.

Presidents have wide discretion as to how to enforce immigration laws passed by Congress. Trump’s order indicates he intends to enforce the statutes. The administration says it will prioritize the deportation of criminal aliens, the 300,000 or so who have committed crimes either in the United States or in their home countries. But the order does not make that distinction.

Trump needs no additional authority to deport illegal immigrants. He might need additional money to fully implement his order, but existing law provides a process for the repatriation of anyone who has entered the country illegally or violated the terms of a visa.

Driven by crushing poverty, immigrants seeking opportunities impossible at home have illegally flooded across the border — 12 million by most counts. They have placed strains on public education, healthcare and law enforcement.

Once here and armed with forged papers they have found ready employment on farms and construction sites, and in hotels, restaurants, processing plants and other places eager for cheap, reliable labor.

While most are not violent or dangerous, all have violated federal law by entering and remaining in the country. Millions have further submitted fake papers to employers, and have assumed other identities for the sake of employment.

They are also real people — real families — with real ties to the United States. They have children, many who are citizens born in the United States, who have never known another home.

We return to what we’ve always seen as the two legal options facing their dispositions: Make them go, or let them stay.

Only Congress can change the law. And it’s time it did.

Congress must offer illegal immigrants temporary legal status and a path to permanent residency, but not citizenship, after 10 years if they can be properly vetted and meet strict requirements — no prior felony convictions, no violations while awaiting residency, learning to speak English and assimilate, and pay a fine and back taxes.

The border should be secured. A viable guestworker program must be established, and employers must verify the work status of their employees.

We respect the rule of law, and do not lightly suggest rewarding those who have flouted it. But we are reluctant to disrupt the lives of otherwise harmless people who have done what we would do — whatever it takes to ensure the safety and welfare of our families.

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