Stopping illegal immigration at its source

By , Robert Garcia, Democrat of New York in the US House of Representatives, is chairman of the House Census and Population Subcommittee and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Control over the entry of noncitizens is a key determinant of national sovereignty. How that control is achieved and maintained is, therefore, a reflection of a nation's political system and beliefs.

That is why the immigration bill now pending in the House is probably the most important piece of legislation to be considered by the 97th Congress. Although the diligent efforts of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees should not be overlooked, the bill as it is presently structured is flawed.

Aside from specific provisions of the bill which are potentially discriminatory toward Hispanics - such as employer sanctions, a national ID system, a watered-down amnesty program, and an expanded H-2 program - the major difficulty with this legislation is its focus, or lack of focus, on the foreign policy aspects of immigration policy.

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The meshing of domestic and foreign policy has become widely accepted. The impact of foreign goods on the United States economy and, conversely, the effect of high US interest rates on the economies of our allies are prime examples of this interaction. The symbiosis of domestic and foreign policy concerns is no more apparent than with the massive influx of immigrants that come to this country; through this massive flow of people, these policies become irreversibly intertwined.

Immigration policy not only must take into account national sovereignty, it also must be carefully crafted to maintain cordial relations with our allies, particularly Latin American and Caribbean nations. Further, unless immigration is stopped at the source, the US will never be able to effectively control its borders.

Leaving one's family, friends, culture, and language is not easy. Yet each year tremendous numbers of people enter the US without proper documents. Why do so many people risk their freedom and leave the familiarity of home? One, because the economic and political situation in their countries has become intolerable and, two, because the lure of prosperity and jobs in the US offers hope.

This ''push-pull'' impetus is the primary reason for the massive influx of immigrants. It cannot be ignored if the US intends to construct a realistic and fair immigration policy.

Even as the US economy slumps and the prospect of jobs becomes less promising , the ''push'' factor, or the faltering of Latin American economies, continues to grow. It is necessary, then, to integrate US development policies with immigration policy. Anything short of this integration would not address the basic reason for undocumented immigration.

During the last two decades, nearly nine million people have emigrated from the Caribbean basin to the US. That total is even higher if Mexico and the rest of Latin American are included. This flow will not abate or become more regular by instituting a law that places the onus of responsibility for immigration control on American businessmen who are interested in having a constant flow of cheap labor, and on impoverished people whose promise of a future is contingent on maintaining a shadow existence as an undocumented person.

Immigration policy must be, at least in part, the product of multilateral and bilateral agreements between the US and nations that are the principal senders of immigrants.

The Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), despite its flaws, is a step in the right direction for developing an extended economic agreement and support system between Caribbean basin nations and the US. An extension of the CBI to include Mexico and other Latin American countries that are prime senders of immigrants; a retooling of this new CBI so that it emphasizes developing labor- rather than capital-intensive industries; and, most important, a reworking of both an expanded CBI and the immigration bill so that they complement each other should all be primary objectives of a new US immigration policy.

Immigration must be controlled at the source. Agricultural and labor intensive industrial development programs are two key proposals for creating jobs to keep potential immigrants at home. Bolstering developing nations' economies also provides the dual benefits of stabilizing the region politically and building potential markets for US goods and services.

It is to the benefit of those countries sending the most immigrants to cooperate, not only because it would increase their prosperity but because it also cuts off the so-called ''brain drain'' of their most intelligent and industrious workers.

Admittedly, it is not an easy task to integrate immigration policy and foreign aid. This is a radical approach to immigration, but nonetheless it reflects a profound understanding of the complexity of US government attempts to control the borders.

The immigration bill that is currently being considered by the House does not take into account foreign policy concerns. It attempts to deal with immigration not at the border, or before the border, where the problem begins, but over the border, in the US, where fair enforcement is much more difficult and much less permanent.

The recent economic difficulties in Mexico and the subsequent increase in attempted crossing at the US-Mexico border provide an excellent example of the magnitude of the problem which the US will continue to face unless it integrates its immigration and foreign policies.

What a new US immigration policy must do is assist prime sending nations in making it attractive for potential immigrants to stay home. Tackling the situation at its heart, in these countries, is not only the best solution; it is the only effective solution to US immigration problems.

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