THIS community was built on the backs of men and women who came here following a dream.

Most did not have a lot of money. And they did not know from where their first meal, let alone a means to support themselves, would come.

They came from poor communities and from nations where they struggled.

They heard about the opportunities in America, and they put everything on the line to get here.

And when they did, they worked, hard.

Their proudest moment was when they could say they were citizens of their adopted country. They learned the language and taught their children the value of freedom and hard work.

They never forgot where they came from — and cherished the traditions they brought with them. But this was home, and they proudly called themselves, “Americans.”

So, because of that history, many of the people who now live in this valley are descendants of people who understood what a privilege it was to earn the title of “citizen.”

And the stories our parents and grandparents shared of those early days, they form the basis of the values many Mercer County families cherish today.

So it is understandable that many of us might look at the caravan of migrants stalled at the southern U.S. border with a bit of empathy.

If they truly are seeking a better life, shouldn’t we welcome them to the land of opportunity?

But there is a difference. And it is an important one.

There are immigrants right now who want to become American citizens. They have done the work, are learning the language and are waiting for their chance to take the oath of citizenship.

They did not attempt to cross a border in the middle of the night, or pay a coyote to sneak them into our country. They respected our nation enough to do it right.

And if we are going to honor those who took a chance and headed to Ellis Island generations ago, we need to hold this new generation of immigrants to the same standard.

There are people who are seeking asylum in this country who face dire circumstances. There should be an absolute process for them. And if they are found to truly be facing death or great risk, their applications should get top priority.

But there is nothing wrong with expecting those who wish to become American citizens to do it the right way. And if they don’t, it is OK to make them follow the rules if they want to stay or to send them back home.

Dragging your family across a border illegally is not a responsible thing to do. And it is not our job as a nation to right that wrong — especially if it is at the expense of those who are waiting in line for their chance to be Americans.

There are ways to deal with migrant workers who want to come to the U.S. To work, and, possibly, to bring their families with them.

We can have a migrant worker visa program that allows workers to come here for a short time, or as long as they want. They will pay a fee to do so, and their wages will be taxed — their contribution to the services they will use while they are here.

They won’t be citizens, but they also won’t be victims of those who want to use the fact that they are undocumented as a reason to pay them unfair wages or to force them into unsafe working situations.

And, if while they are here, they want to earn the right to become citizens, there should be a path to do so.

For those who are already here illegally, the road should be similar.

There should be a penalty, but also a way to right the wrong and to become a legal citizen of the U.S. And that option should also be made available to the children they brought across the border.

U.S. Immigration policy is a mess. The reason there are so many undocumented immigrants to deal with — and a caravan at the border right now — is that no politician has really had the guts to insist that the problem get solved.

But it is time. And not just for more talk and political yik yak. We need real discussion and a plan. Grandstanding and finger-pointing are not enough.

In the meantime, there are still places across this country that are touting themselves as sanctuary cities, that are rejecting U.S. Immigration law.

There should be consequences for them, too.

Our ancestors came to this nation at great sacrifice to create new lives. But at the heart of their journey was a real wish to be Americans.

They followed the rules, risked a lot and worked very hard.

The value of earning their citizenship to them was immeasurable.

We honor them by making sure others respect it as well.