Blending policy and enforcement with compassion might be the best way to handle the critical issue of immigration in the U.S. Washington University hosted a forum in St. Louis that brought together all sides of the issue.

St. Louis Congressman Lacy Clay met with INS commissioners, attorneys, advocates and others at for a two-hour discussion. He says it comes down to this… There’s no way to get 12 million undocumented immigrants to get up and leave.

He says the Dream Act, which he is co-sponsoring in Congress, is a good start. The bill holds harmless young men and women who are immigrants and are working toward an education or join the U.S military.

AUDIO: Jessica Machetta reports [Mp3, 1:16 min.]

The bill, which Clay is co-sponsoring, would provide permanent residency to certain illegal aliens who graduate from high school, arrived in the U.S. as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment. If they were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning, they would be granted temporary residency for a six year period. Within the six year period, they may qualify if they have “acquired a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or has completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher degree in the United States” or have “served in the armed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, has received an honorable discharge.

Clay points out the bill is focused on young people who are eager to contribute to America, reaching out to those 35 years and younger.

Clay says it was good for the St. Louis community to come together to have a frank discussion about an ever-growing problem.

He says he thinks in addition to policy creation and enforcement, there needs to be an element of compassion … a formula he thinks state’s like Texas and Florida are doing right.

He says there’s no easy answer, but starting the conversation is beneficial to all sides, including Immigration officials, policy makers, advocates and community leaders.

He says immigration is deeply rooted in the history of the U.S., Missouri, and St. Louis. They have all come here looking for a better life, he says.

Those joining Clay at the panel discussion was Hon. Gene McNary, Former INS Commissioner, Charles Pratt, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service, Ken Schmitt, Chairman, American Immigration Lawyers Association MO-KS Chapter, Anna Crosslin, CEO & President, International Institute of St. Louis, Katherine Matthews, M.D. – Director of Clinical Services, Casa de Salud, and Bob Fox, Chairman of the Board, Casa de Salud.