The 'push-pull' dilemma of immigration

The problem of uncontrolled illegal immigration is one of the central challenges facing the United States. At issue is the very sovereignty of the nation.

In the debate to regain control of the US border some have advocated increased spending on foreign assistance as a panacea. Such action is not a viable substitute for a comprehensive policy aimed at controlling the flow of illegal immigration into our country.

This is not meant to imply that the so-called ''push factors'' have not contributed to emigration. Certainly the economic and civil strife currently enveloping Latin America is likely to increase such pressures.

However, those seeking to escape the stifling economic conditions and political turmoil cannot do so unless they have a place to escape to. Needless to say, there have yet to be any boatlifts to Havana. It is the lure of a better life in the United States that serves to attract those who sincerely seek to improve the quality of their lives. This is the ''pull factor.''

In studying the illegal immigration issue one is confronted with the economic and political facts of life. Specifically, as long as relative wage rates are higher in the US than in the sending countries, strong ''magnetic'' incentives will continue to attract people to make the northward trek. With US wages between 7 and 10 times higher than in Mexico, for example, the opportunity cost of staying at home becomes discouragingly high.

Although many foreign assistance measures, such as the Caribbean Basin Initiative (which I strongly support), are laudable in purpose, economic development is a long-term process. Aside from the impediments posed by the collectivist economic policies of many less-developed countries, it is simply not feasible to close disparities in national wealth overnight. In the interim, it is essential for the US to come forth with an effective national immigration policy.

Unfortunately, we are ill-equipped to address the immediate challenges before us. Our present policies rest on a legal hodgepodge that has arisen out of numerous ad hoc responses to individual crises. It is for this reason that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1982 (the Simpson-Mazzoli bill) should receive priority consideration during the current lame-duck session.

This comprehensive approach to immigration would among other things provide for the adoption of employer sanctions. Such action is required if we are to have any hope of demagnetizing the attraction of unlawful employment in the US. This approach has been endorsed by four administrations and more recently by the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy. After two terms on the immigration subcommittee and a trip to our Southwest border in 1979 where I interviewed many people illegally entering our country, I am convinced that employer sanctions are a necessary ingredient of any comprehensive reform bill.

It is time for us to send a message to the rest of the world that if you want to work in the US you must first comply with our immigration laws.

Admittedly, push factors will continue to exist. But to the degree in which we are able to negate the pull factors, great progress can be made in reducing the flow to the point where the job of the border patrol becomes more manageable.

If we were to reduce the flow of illegal immigration in a legislative vacuum, we would produce adverse impacts both on those sectors of our economy that are unable to obtain a sufficient supply of domestic labor and on Mexico.

In the latter case, there exists an historical flow of workers crossing back and forth over our southwest border that dates back to the 1880s. A number of US industries have come to rely on this source of labor. The only practical answer is for the US government to allow a controlled flow of foreign labor. Simply put , the US would determine the numbers and into which industries they would be allowed.

To be successful, we must enlist the aid of a country most affected by such a policy - Mexico. Accordingly, the Judiciary Committee accepted my amendment to bring Mexico into a consultation process regarding the administration of our H-2 temporary worker program. At a time when underemployment and unemployment in Mexico is approaching 45 percent, the danger of attempting to formulate immigration without regard to practical and historical realities was recognized.

As larger numbers of undocumented aliens report accounts of success through the channels of communication that reach back home, the impetus for additional immigration is created. The adage that immigration begets immigration is then validated.

It is the right as well as the responsibility of all sovereign states to exercise control over their borders. If we fail in this task, the decision will pass by default to prevailing economic and political elements elsewhere over which we have little or no control.

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