Get real on immigration debate

In an Oct. 27, 2014 file photo, Arturo Hernandez Garcia flips through his bible before an interview at the First Unitarian Church of Denver in Denver. Garcia, who has been living in the Denver church's basement for nine months to avoid deportation, walked away Tuesday, July 21, 2015, saying immigration officials told him he is no longer a priority for deportation. (AP Photo/P. Solomon Banda, File)

Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush recently accused each other of making major shifts in their positions on immigration.

Those charges are valid.

Donald Trump recently said, “If I get the nomination, I’ll win the Latino vote.”

That prediction is preposterous.

But regardless of who wins the Latino vote and enough other votes to capture the presidency next year, all White House candidates should engage in a substantive debate about immigration policy.

In other words, that discussion should extend far beyond fittingly disapproving reactions to Mr. Trump’s rash rhetoric on the subject.

Unfortunately, the deep national divide on this topic finds many conservatives advocating far-fetched, hard-line, anti-immigration positions — and many liberals backing, in effect, virtually open borders.

Any responsible, politically feasible congressional compromise would secure those borders while also providing a reasonable pathway to legal status — and yes, even citizenship in numerous cases. After all, there are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States, with many filling vital labor needs, particularly in the agricultural, construction and hospitality industries.

But that doesn’t mean those whose violations of law go beyond their undocumented status should so frequently be released by the authorities.

For instance, a Mexican national with seven felony convictions was charged last month with the murder of a woman in San Francisco — a “sanctuary city” that routinely declines to turn over illegal immigrants to federal officials.

As San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders wrote a few days later: “Sanctuary City supporters cannot say they were not warned. Recently, ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Director Sarah Saldana told a House committee that reduced cooperation from state and local governments ‘may increase the risk that dangerous criminals are returned to the streets, putting the public and our officers at greater risk.’ ”

Clearly, incarcerating, deporting and/or keeping out “dangerous criminals” who too easily enter and stay in our country illegally is a necessary mission to maximize public safety for all — including the illegal immigrants who aren’t felons.

Just as clearly, comprehensive immigration reform is a politically difficult goal. Bipartisan efforts over the last decade have repeatedly fallen short, leaving the nation with a status quo that satisfies neither side of the argument.

Meanwhile, many conservatives rightly question President Barack Obama’s commitment to effective enforcement of immigration law.

Yet there’s no debating this reality: In less than 15½ months, we’ll choose a new president who could have a different immigration take than the current Oval Office occupant.

Another point that liberals, conservatives and the folks in between should recognize:

Immigration is a national challenge that requires federal solutions, not piecemeal, conflicting approaches by cities and states.

So immigration rates a thorough, realistic hearing in next year’s presidential campaign.

And voters should listen carefully.