Congress would be remiss in once again missing an opportunity to enact a comprehensive new immigration bill. Illegal aliens continue to pour across US borders - making a mockery of the nation's immigration laws. Washington should enact an immigration reform bill as quickly as possible.
Congress was on the verge of accepting such a landmark measure last year, the so-called Simpson-Mazzoli bill. The Senate had overwhelmingly approved the bill. But the legislation bogged down in the House, largely because of skillful blocking by House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill, who feared that President Reagan would try to win Hispanic votes by vetoing the measure. The President has now let it be known that he would not veto the bill. Speaker O'Neill has said he will let the bill come up for a vote.
House members - for the good of the nation - should throw their support behind the legislation when it comes up for action in the next month or so.
The issue, it needs to be said, is not one of penalizing legal immigrants - or even ending or unduly restricting immigration. The Simpson-Mazzoli bill would not do that. In addition to providing for high levels of legal immigration, the bill would confer amnesty on thousands of illegal aliens now living in the US. What is at stake is ensuring that immigration is undertaken in a fair and orderly manner. Continuing immigration is vital to the United States. Studies show that newcomers often tend to be more enterprising and productive than native-born Americans, underscored, for example, by the proportionally higher start-up rate for new businesses by immigrants.
Every nation, however, has the right to select whom to allow into its borders on a resident, or permanent, basis. Thousands of legal aliens waited long years before gaining entry into the US. Many individuals and families continue to wait.
Thus, for Washington to continue to ignore the problem of illegal immigration would be unjust.
The key to the Simpson-Mazzoli bill is the concept of employer sanctions - namely, that employers would be subject to fines or criminal penalties for knowingly hiring illegal aliens. The Senate has accepted such a provision. Some employer groups and Hispanic organizations will attempt to water down the provision in the House. Doing so, however, would deprive the bill of the very teeth needed to make it effective.
Surely, employers need not fear violating the measure so long as they make good-faith efforts to determine the legal status of prospective workers. And for the same reason, Hispanic groups need not fear that US citizens and legal aliens of Hispanic origin would be discriminated against because of a misguided enforcement of the measure.
Meantime, two other issues also need to be addressed in the coming immigration debate:
* Congress should unhesitatingly approve White House plans to add another 850 border patrol officers to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The cost: were caught trying to enter the US illegally.
* Congress should ensure that if the administration, as now planned, grants legal residency status to some 100,000 Cubans who entered the US by sea in 1980, similar status should be accorded the 7,200 Haitians who also came to the US that year.
Why should the Cubans be granted legal status, but not the Haitians?
The fairest solution would be to grant this status to both groups by including a special provision in the Simpson-Mazzoli bill.