Rethinking immigration

The US Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy is fundamentally on target, we think, in its approach to the tangled --trolling illegal immigration. As most Americans now realize, US laws have been consistently violated these past few years (if not reduced to a large measure of mockery) by soaring illegal immigration, particularly along the US border with Mexico. But exactly how to control that massive influx has so far defied solution.

At this still exploratory stage of its two-year inquiry, the commission is proposing that amnesty be offered aliens already in the US. It would increase the number of persons allowed to legally immigrate by 180,000 annually for five years. Civil and criminal penalties would be imposed against employers knowingly hiring illegal aliens. The commission, which will not submit its final report to the president and Congress until next year, tentatively rules out use of national worker identification cards.

So far so good. We have great trouble with the concept of national identity cards, involving as it would, numerous constitutional questions. Most Americans have access to a broad range to identity documents, from birth certificates to social security cards and drivers licenses, to name just a few. And "legal" aliens have to carry proper documentation.

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The idea of some type of amnesty for current illegals warrants sound consideration by lawmakers. After all, many of these aliens, estimated by analysts as between three million and six million people, are now making a substantial contribution to the US through jobs in plants and on farms. To a great extent, many of the factories throughout the Us Southwest are virtually dependent on their skills.

We would hope, however, that the commission (and eventually elected officials) will not let timidity or political pressure block a fair examination of the other side of the whole illegal immigration question -- finding ways to directly deal with the massive influx across US borders. Some tough decisions will have to be squarely faced.

For example, what should be the proper role of the US border patrol? Is the size and disposition of the force currently adequate to properly fulfill its assigned task? Some critics allege that the force has been cut back in its enforcement duties by a Carter administration that has been overly sensitive to political consideration from the increasingly large US Latin-American community. What sanctions should be imposed against persons found illegally crossing the US border? What should be asked of other nations to help prev vent violations of US immigration laws? Should it not be made clear to all that open US borders do not mean uncontrolled borders?

Finally, while generally supporting the idea of penalizing business firms that hire illegals, we would want to ensure that there are clear safeguards for employers in this day and age when "official documents" can be so easily fabricated. Employers should not have to face the threat of criminal sanctions merely because they unwittingly hired illegals who were carrying what seemed to be perfectly legal documents. Also, sanctions must be devised in such a way that employers do not skittishly turn down qualified job applicants because they believe they might be illegals -- such as refusing to hire anyone with an accent.

The commission, however, is asking the right questions at this stage of its inquiry and proposing reasonable solutions. Given the fact that as many as a million people may be entering the US illegally each year, and that an estimated 7.5 million americans are not of work, resolution of the illegal alien issue is long overdue. We will look forward to the commission's final report next year. Followed, we would hope, by decisive White House and congressional action.

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