Washington — Not since prohibition has a law in America been so openly flouted as the immigration exclusion law. When politicians don't know what to do with an emotional subject they name a commission. Herbert Hoover named the Wickersham Commission to explore prohibition enforcement and it brought in its report in January, 1931. Seven of its 11 members favored revision but the contradictory and conflicting statements made the situation worse than ever. One paper called it the "Wickershambles."
Now we have another flouting of law enforcemenmt, but the country isn't willing to decide how firm it will be. President Carter has named a 16-member commission to explore immigration. It has four Cabinet members, eight congressional members, and four named by the President. The chairman is the able Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh. It brings in its report March 1, 1981 -- in five months. Will it settle anything? Chances are it won't tell us much we don't already know; the facts are right under our eyes; a number of periodicals have gone out to report on them. The problem is national will.
Here's a headline from an article published in the New York Times: "200,000 at Tijuana [Mexico] wait to be smuggled into US by deadline." Again, the magazine US News & World Report gave a graphic account: "Illegal aliens -- invasion out of control?" (Jan. 28, 1979). The Wall Street Journal runs occasional articles. (Sept. 11, headline: "Law is a patchwork; border a sieve; refugee influx befuddles the authorities")
Many Americans don't want to be bothered. So-called suburds. Bilingualism is a problem in schools in widely scattered areas. The wild influx of Cuban and Haitian refugees in Florida recently brought national attention; now it has subsided again. What is the true situation?
Last December, Labor Secretary Ray Mar shall in an interview with the Los Angeles Times stated the matter about as flatly as it could be put: "It is false to say American workers cannot be found for all of the jobs filled by undocumented [illegal] workers." He was discussing a situation where some 8 million Americans are out of work and an estimated million or more illegals enter each year to compete in the low-pay job market.
How many illegals are there? Nobody knows; one of the lowest estimates, Secretary Marshall said, is 4 million. Others say 12 million. It is a key dispute in the new census estimates. Former immigration Commissioner Leonard F. Chapman in 1977 observed that Mexico's population is 60 million, "with nearly 10 percent . . . already in the US illegally."
Are illegals better off in America than at home? Secretary Marshal says yes, in many ways. But "the illegal immigrants are exploited by employers here. The ample supply of docile, illegal workers perpetuates an underclass of dirty, unsafe, inefficient jobs. It removes the incentive to design work that is more efficient."
He was asked, if employers are punished for hiring illegals, won't we need a system of identification cards for legal workers?
"Yes, we need an identification system which would apply to all workers," he said frankly. "Initially, at least, a noncounterfeitable social security card could be issued to all workers changing jobs, and to all newly hired persons. The fears of such a system are exaggerated. It would not impair anyone's liberty. I have been concerned about civil liberties all of my professional life."
Identity cards. It has a smack of totalitarianism. Nobody wants it. Meanwhile the population growth of native-born Americans comes closer and closer to zero while that of underdeveloped countries remains high. Associate Attorney General John H. Shenefield warned an audience in Florida last month that "in the next 20 years the Caribbean world may attempt to empty out much of its population on our shores as political and economic pressure throughout the area continues to build." Mr. Shenefield entitled his address, made to a chapter of the Federal Bar Association in a state that has seen a recent influx of Cuban and Haitian immigrants: "The immigration crisis -- tomorrow is too late."