An impressive win for all Americans. That is how one would have to categorize the swift Senate action this week in passing the new immigration bill by a top-heavy 76-to-14 vote. It is now urgent that the House move quickly to enact its own version of the measure, named the Simpson-Mazzoli bill after its two chief congressional sponsors.
Unfortunately, the legislation still faces tough hurdles in the House. Last year opponents were able to prevent floor action in that chamber, despite the fact that the Senate - as it did this year - had passed the measure. Yet the pressing need for immigration reform is no longer in doubt, what with millions of illegal aliens already within the United States and hundreds of thousands more pouring across US borders yearly. As Senator Alan Simpson noted in this week's debate, ''the first duty of a sovereign nation is to control its borders, and we don't.''
Opposition to the legislation has centered around two key issues: concern that the law would be used by employers to discriminate against Hispanic-Americans; concern from business groups that the burden of enforcing immigration laws would be unfairly shifted from the govenment to business.
The Senate measure, to a large extent, addresses both of these concerns:
* Under terms of an amendment sought by Senator Kennedy, there would be a broad range of legal protections, including the right to full judicial review in federal deportation, exclusion, and asylum cases.
* Business people and farmers would also have a number of legal protections. Smaller business or farm enterprises employing less than four workers would not come under the purview of the act. Immigration officials would have to obtain a search warrant before entering open fields to determine if agricultural workers were illegal aliens. Farmers would be allowed to phase out their use of illegal aliens over a three-year period. After that time the farmers could apply for permission to import foreign guest workers.
One can understand the apprehension of Hispanic-American groups that the legislation not be allowed to become a pretext for employers to abuse illegal aliens - or Hispanic-Americans, for that matter. Thus, the House would seem wise in firming up provisions that penalize employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens - and who then exploit the existence of the law to pay subminimum wages, for example, while threatening illegal workers with deportation if they protest.
At the same time, it must be noted that the legislation is more than generous in granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens now residing in the United States. While the aliens have contributed much to the American economy, it is also true that they are here illegally - by deliberately defying US laws. So the fact that millions of illegal aliens would be pardoned and set on a legal course that could eventually gain them US citizenship can hardly be looked upon as a mean-spirited or discriminatory approach.
The Simpson-Mazzoli bill is fair and reasonable. It's now up to the House