LAS VEGAS - When it comes to fixing our nation's illegal immigration problem,

we face two serious problems: One is plugging the gaping holes on the

enforcement side; the other is figuring out what to do with those who

are already here in the U.S. illegally, many of whom have been our

neighbors, friends and co-workers for many, many, years.

As to the second problem, anyone wanting a seat at the table to

resolve this issue has to acknowledge that this nation will never

support the inhumanity of a mass deportation of an estimated 12

million people, many of whom were brought here as children with no

say in the matter.

That said, in any immigration reform bill that Congress might

consider, the first priority must be to "stop the bleeding" -

meaning  tough enforcement at our porous borders.

The Gang of Eight Senate bill wasn't strong enough on the

enforcement side making it a non-starter in the House. However,

establishing some new form of legalization or documented status - not

citizenship with voting rights - for many of those currently in the

U.S. illegally but who are otherwise productive members of our

communities, is doable and worth pursuing.

As Reynaldo Robledo, co-owner of Roberto's  Taco Shops, noted over

the summer: "I don't think we need to rush to make people here

illegally citizens. They want to be able to live here and work, but

not everybody wants to be a citizen."

So let's take full-blown citizenship off the table for now and just

focus on establishing tough but fair criteria for allowing certain

families and individuals to continue living and working here under

some kind of legal status.

Then let's see if the federal government is really and truly

serious about sealing our borders and enforcing existing immigration

laws.  Because at this point, Americans who have watched the federal

government look the other way as the illegal immigration problem

continued to get worse and worse have no reason to trust that "this

time" will be any better.

And part of any such stepped-up enforcement must include full

implementation of a comprehensive e-verify system that will make it

more difficult to hire individuals who enter the country illegally

without imposing an undue compliance headache on employers.

Once the federal government has demonstrated that the enforcement

side is real and not just lip service, sometime down the road we can

have a new discussion on the possibility of extending earned

citizenship - including tough penalties and rigid requirements -

that doesn't set back those who are already waiting in line.

Immigration reform in the U.S. is a triage situation.  We need to do

first things first - not everything all at once - if we want to do it

right and save the patient.

Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a conservative grassroots

advocacy organization. He can be reached at