A harsh reality for those of us who call ourselves moderates is that political polarization pushes us, first to the right, then to the left, into the uncomfortable corners where extremism lurks.

I’m terribly uncomfortable when the issues of the day put me in the company of the far left or the far right.  So I’m uncomfortable with today’s topic. Giving non-citizens the vote. This one puts me in the corner with the anti-voting right as nervously as my support for freedom of speech might put me in the corner with Julian Assange on the left.

To be clear, I strongly favor steady immigration into the United States from everywhere. And I strongly favor a workable, simple system for those who enter our country.  At the moment we have neither. The president’s announcement on Thursday of a new immigration plan didn’t seem to move any extremists out of their corners.

Unfortunately, no incentive exists for people on any side of the immigration debates to make a deal.  So, nativists yell “send ’em all back,” and liberals yell “let ’em all in.”

In Portland, the liberals, in the form of Mayor Ethan Strimling and Councilor Pious Ali, want to push it a step farther. They would let immigrants vote in municipal and school elections without going through the niceties of becoming citizens.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the right has hit back with two resolutions in the Legislature for state constitutional amendments to keep non-citizens from voting in any election.  Never mind that the Constitution may already do that.

It’s like two boys on the playground tossing testosterone.  “In your face,” yell Strimling and Ali at the conservatives.  “No, in your face,” yell Rep. Nathan Wadsworth, R-Hiram, and Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, sponsors of the resolutions to block non-citizen voting.

Whether the nativists like it or not, immigrants will come.  And we need them. We are not making enough babies to replace ourselves.  Whether open-border liberals like it or not, some would-be immigrants should be sent back. Some few are fleeing police back home who have legitimate reasons to round them up.

Alas, just as on the national scene, where the right to vote and the process of voting are under attack by those who would restrict the vote — remember Jim Crow?  poll taxes? literacy tests? — this is dragging Maine into a debate that leads to no positive outcome.

Worse, it is becoming a test of party loyalty in each political party.  In the past couple of weeks legislators from each party have told me they have been confronted by confreres in their own party for voting against the party line.  The pressure to stay on the reservation must be as heavy in Augusta as it is in Washington.

At least four kinds of people live in America.  Native Americans, by which I mean folks born here.  Naturalized Americans, which is immigrants who went through the process to become citizens.  Legal immigrants, most of whom probably intend someday become citizens. And illegal immigrants.

The plan President Trump issued on Thursday would mostly affect only the third group, legal immigrants.  He would change the rules for obtaining legal immigrant status.

The key to getting into the United States legally would shift from family ties to “merit.”  It would no longer matter if your Aunt Eller was a resident or citizen so much as it would matter whether you had skills in short supply here.  Are you an ace at IT? You’re in. Good apple picker? You’re in, but only for August, September and October.

The plan resembles the policy under which our family immigrated into Canada in 1972.  I crossed into Canada at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on a Sunday morning. An examiner for Immigration Canada used a points system to determine whether I merited “landed immigrant” status in Canada.

I needed to score 50 points.  I got five for speaking English and five more for barely speaking French. Those are Canada’s national languages. I had a letter from The Montreal Gazette stating that I had a job. Ten points. Or maybe it was 20.  That job did double duty for me because Immigration rated journalism a skill in short supply and long demand in Canada. (Those were the days.) I got another 10 or 20 points for that. A few points for being married, a few more for having a son.

It topped out above 60 points, the examiner gave me a card with my “landed” status on it and he stamped it for the border crossing at the Soo.

It wasn’t so simple for Marilyn and Robbie, who flew in a week later to Dorval Airport.  But their arrival showed that a merit-based system could be flexible.

They arrived at Dorval the day that 15,000 Ugandans of Asian descent arrived in Canada, expelled from their native land by the evil Idi Amin.  The Ugandan-Asians didn’t have to wait weeks or months. They received refugee status pretty quickly. It was only months before we were greeted by a Ugandan-Asian as we walked into a convenience store to pick up some milk.

Of course, the Trump proposal neglects to deal with the thorny issue of the DACA kids, those who came in illegally with their parents but who have lived almost their entire lives as Americans.  And it does nothing to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, who account for about 11 million of our 327 million residents.

But Trump’s plan mimics a system that I know from experience helped me immigrate and, presumably, helped Canada get five years of service from an American journalist.  I became the women’s editor of the Gazette and two years later became deputy editor of the editorial pages.

Our second son was born in Montreal, and when we came home — he was 14 months old then — he had dual citizenship.  Following the 1976 Quebec election, it was clear that the demand for English newspapers had a dim future in Quebec. As we fished for a new job, the prospects looked better here than in English Canada.  So we came home.

We never took Canadian citizenship, so we never voted there.  That is as it should be. Citizenship should continue to have not only a strong emotional reward — “I’m proud I qualified to be a citizen in America, a country that welcomes me” — but at least a few more tangible rewards. None of those is more sacred than the vote. Strimling and Ali are wrong. The carrot at the end of the stick is the right to vote. It is a sacred right that should be granted only to those who by birth or naturalization have become full-fledged Americans.

When the requirements of citizenship are met, then hand every new American the key to the city and show them where to enroll to vote.  At that point, they have earned the right.

Bob Neal lived almost five years in Canada.  He still feels comfortable there. It’s gratifying to have two home countries.

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