SAN DIEGO Perplexed by the immigration debate? Helen Krieble has a solution. It's called the "Red Card Solution."
The 69-year-old grandmother of nine is the president of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation, which is named after her grandfather a chemist and entrepreneur who, in 1953, invented and successfully marketed a special sealant for metal. She also owns and operates the Colorado Horse Park, an international equestrian and events center in Parker, Colo.
Anyone who raises or trains horses learns two things quickly: This is a job that Americans often don't want to do; and Mexican immigrants will take the jobs and are attentive enough to be good with the animals.
But if the immigrants are here illegally, and you can't hire them, that's a problem.
Helen Krieble solves problems. So, a few years ago, she came up with the Red Card Solution. Newt Gingrich endorsed the concept during one of the 2012 Republican presidential debates.
The plug was a mixed blessing.
"Newt got the details wrong, and made it sound too much like amnesty," she told me.
Red cards are not amnesty. They're renewable work permits for the undocumented without permanent legal residency or citizenship. Some in Congress are interested.
"There's a database that matches workers and employers," Krieble said. "And it would be open to all people who need work permits, including those who are illegal now and foreign workers who want to come. You have to go through a national security check, and you must have a job. Forty-eight hours later, you're in the U.S. as a legal worker."
That was simple.
While Washington could get mired in the debate over citizenship and come up empty-handed, red cards would probably be easier to push through. People could work legally. Families could stay together. And the Obama administration's grotesque deportation machine could be scrapped
This is a big improvement on the status quo. Maybe not better than the 844-page bill from the Senate's "Gang of Eight." But better than nothing.
Liberals won't like it, however. Krieble understands why.
"Every time there is mention of comprehensive immigration reform, the left drops interest in anything short of that," she said. "But you and I both know that citizenship is going to be the thing that once again kills reform. So let's deal with 80 percent of the problem the people who don't have criminal records and just want to work."
Immigration reform advocates want to protect the Senate bill, and scuttle anything that competes with it. So they'll claim that the plan turns immigrant workers into indentured servants. What does she say to that?
"I say that there are two paths," she responded. "There is a path to work permits which is simple and almost instantaneous, and there is a path to citizenship, which is very serious and very hard. That's how it should be. However, if you've got a work permit, that doesn't prohibit you from joining the other path. But you have to identify yourself as someone who really wants to be a citizen and follow the procedure."
For Krieble, U.S. citizenship is not like some goody bag you give away at a party. It's precious.
"The phrase 'naturalization' means to make as if native," she said. "It's about understanding that America is an idea. It's not about the dates of the Civil War. It's about who we are as a people, what we stand for, and our responsibilities as free citizens. Many Americans have forgotten that. So how do you make people who want to become citizens aware of it? It's not as simple as passing a bill. It should take some time."
Excellent point. Immigrants have to come to citizenship at their own speed, and not on the timetable of politicians who only care about ginning up voters for the next election.
What Krieble cares about is restoring the country's greatness.
"For generations, why did people uproot their existence to come to America?" she asked. "It wasn't for welfare or Social Security. It was for freedom, opportunity and equality. So who can save America and return our values? It's not our children who, these days, are spoiled brats. It's new immigrants who know what this country is all about. They're the people who can once again make America the great light of the world."
Right again. The Red Card Solution might not be perfect. But the message behind it is awfully close.
Ruben Navarrette's email address is email@example.com.