While the debt ceiling debate rages and Congress is busy haggling over who should be taxed and what programs should be slashed, they’ve promised to consider all options except…one.

Lawmakers have chosen to forget that immigration is a discretionary social policy that by definition is designed to be adjusted to serve the nation’s broad national interest, particularly during difficult economic times. This discretionary policy is a powerful economic tool, but only if it is brought out and used.

No comprehensive financial fix can be complete without Congress demanding increased enforcement against illegal immigration and reducing legal immigration to sustainable levels.

Reforming immigration would tighten the labor market, open up jobs for legal U.S. residents, and reduce the overall fiscal strain that immigration imposes on health care, education and other social services.

Doing so is an urgent mandate and a legitimate, justified use of policy.

If not now, then when?

Here are four ways that Congress could get to work… now!

1. Increase Enforcement and Reduce Costs

American taxpayers spend $113 billion annually subsidizing illegal immigration and padding the pockets of businesses addicted to cheap labor. Taxpayers at the state and local levels bear the brunt, providing $84 billion in services annually while the federal government spends $29 billion. The latter figure is – incidentally -- almost exactly equal to the interest payment on the total federal debt this past April. Of course, the debt continues to grow uncontrollably because the government must borrow to keep up with, among other things, the growing cost of illegal immigration.

In some states, reducing the fiscal burden of illegal immigration would represent nothing short of an economic miracle:

- California’s budget deficit is now $9.6 billion yet the state spends $21.8 billion subsidizing illegal immigration, more than double their deficit.

- Massachusetts could almost clear their books by ending illegal alien subsidies; the state’s deficit is $2 billion while their annual cost of illegal immigration is $1.86 billion.

- Maryland and New York would enjoy much needed surpluses; those state’s expenditures on illegal immigration actually exceed their deficits!

The savings can’t be realized overnight because much of the expense is mandated by law requiring the education of the children of illegal aliens, many of whom are U.S. born, and for emergency medical treatment. But it is a responsible step in the right direction.

Reducing these costs requires the administration to actually enforce existing immigration laws, complete border fencing, allow states to participate in the enforcement process, and otherwise deny benefits and incentives to illegal aliens.

2. Pass E-Verify and Create Jobs for Americans

Unemployment is at its highest level in 27 years, yet illegal aliens continue to stream in seeking jobs. While 25 million Americans are either looking for work, underemployed or have become discouraged and given up, 7 million jobs are occupied by illegal aliens.

Passing H.R. 2164 would make E-Verify mandatory in all 50 states and would ensure that future workers are legal workers. Passing the Senate version (S.1196) would require that existing employees are also checked for legal status, thereby opening up many of the 7 million jobs held by illegal aliens. In an economy that added an anemic 18,000 jobs last months, allowing American workers to fill existing ones is essential.

Moreover, when jobs are denied to illegal aliens, wages increase to attract legal workers and taxes are paid – not just by a few but by all and Uncle Sam is happy.

3. Reduce Legal Immigration – Time Out

After more than 40 years of sustained high levels of immigration, America needs a time out on legal immigration while we formulate new policies that reflect the realities of the 21st century.

Fewer than 6 percent of legal immigrants were admitted because they possessed skills deemed essential to the U.S. economy. Most are admitted because of family ties to earlier immigrants, many of whom are living in poverty or near poverty.

As a result, immigration bloats an already-existing surplus of low-skilled workers, increasing job competition and driving down wages for American workers.

4. Immigration Policy Is Economic Policy

What once was can no longer be. While the U.S. is exporting jobs overseas it continues to import millions of low-skilled and government-subsidized legal immigrants. Laws are not being enforced against the estimated 13 million illegal immigrants already here.

In addition, hundreds of thousands of additional foreign guest workers are admitted each year to accommodate the demands of business interests that simply prefer to hire foreign workers over local legal U.S. residents.

If lawmakers are sincere about putting all options on the table to fix our mounting fiscal crisis, they must acknowledge the need to reform immigration. Enforcing laws against illegal immigration, reducing flows of legal immigration to more sensible levels, and ending foreign guest worker programs would open up jobs for Americans, increase wages, and reduce taxpayer burdens by the billions at a time when we need it the most.

Bob Dane is Communications Director for FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Kristen Williamson is Communications Assistant for FAIR.