The United States should legalize millions of illegal immigrants living in the country, said Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge in a speech in Miami yesterday.

Tom Ridge

“The bottom line is, as a country we have to come to grips with the presence of 8 to 12 million illegals, afford them some kind of legal status some way, but also as a country decide what our immigration policy is and then enforce it,” Ridge said, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Ridge was speaking at a town hall meeting at Miami-Dade Community College, the second forum in a national series organized by the nonprofit Council for Excellence in Government.

The group is seeking to develop homeland security recommendations for various levels of government and the public, the Florida paper said.

Responding to a question from the audience of about 300, Ridge said he thinks a consensus is building that it is time to address the situation of illegal immigrants, who, he said, contribute to the country and pay taxes.

A growing number of bills would give residency to some of those people he said, adding one that requires them to leave the country before applying for legal status is “not workable.”

“I’m not saying make them citizens, because they violated the law to get here,” he said, according to the Sun-Sentinel. “So you don’t reward that type of conduct by turning over a citizenship certificate. You determine how you can legalize their presence, then, as a country, you make a decision that from this day forward, from this day forward, this is the process of entry, and if you violate that process of entry we have the resources to cope with it.”

Ridge praised Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for the state’s investment in homeland security, amounting to $403 million this year. Most of those funds comes from the $29.4 billion allotted by the federal government for domestic security.

Bush told a national security advisory council yesterday, “In the event of a disaster, a terrorist attack of any kind, … today we are better trained, better equipped, better coordinated,” the Sun-Sentinel reported.

The paper said the town hall audience was asked if they felt safer than they did a year ago. Fifty-two percent answered yes, 28 percent said no, and 20 percent said they felt the same.

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