Will alien reform law `starve'?
In two weeks, the United States embarks on the largest effort in its history to halt the illegal flow of millions of people across its borders. But some experts are worried. Some who have fought for tighter controls on unlawful immigration say the new program is being put in danger by the Reagan administration. These critics warn that budget officials in the White House are failing to provide the resources called for by Congress to carry out the law.Skip to next paragraph
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Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D) of New York charges that the White House ``would like to starve immigration reform.'' Mr. Schumer says the budget limits put on enforcement efforts ``would make the goal of immigration reform - to regain control of our borders - virtually impossible to achieve.''
Analysts say they are uncertain why the White House is clamping down on funds for the program. It may be attributable to concern over the budget deficit. It may reflect philosophical opposition by some White House officials to tighter border controls. Or it may be a sop to Hispanic groups that have opposed a crackdown on illegal immigration.
Supplemental funds to launch the reform effort are expected to come up for debate this week in the House of Representatives.
Critics say the reform effort is being endangered in several specific ways. Each one represents what they characterize as a serious threat to the program:
Congress in an amendment called for 1,840 new Border Patrol officers. The White House claims it is providing for 1,100 additional officers in its new budget requests. But critics say the actual number put in the field will be far below that number, and may even decline in 1987.
Confidential figures show that the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) said it needed an additional $422 million to carry out reform in 1987 and $419 million in 1988. The White House cut those figures by 63 percent for 1987 and 33 percent for 1988.
Congress, pressured by agricultural interests, included an exemption in the law that allows illegal aliens to harvest perishable crops, such as cherries and grapes. Reagan officials have drafted a rule that would drastically expand this category to allow illegal immigrants to harvest such ``perishable'' crops as Christmas trees, tobacco, and sugar beets. One immigration expert in the Senate calls the provision ``a joke.''
Administration officials, rather than funding the entire reform program out of general revenues, have decided to rely on fees charged to immigrants to pay for a major portion of the enforcement program. Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D) of Kentucky, co-author of the immigration bill, calls this a ``shaky foundation'' upon which to run the program.
Immigration officials reportedly sought 350 special investigators to check for fraud in applications for amnesty under the new program. Funds for these special investigators are not included in the budget submitted by the White House.
The new program is being launched at a critical juncture. Millions of aliens, mostly from Latin America and Asia, have entered the US unlawfully since 1980. This unprecedented rush of immigrants has begun to reshape the face of the United States: its language, its culture, its religion, its economy.
The impact has been particularly great in California, home to half the illegal aliens in the US. Unlawful entrants have also congregated in large numbers in Texas, Illinois, New York, Florida, and Washington, D.C.
``Today there is no city or town of any size in the United States that doesn't have an illegal alien in it,'' says a US intelligence agent here along the Texas border.
The law, hammered out after five years of debate on Capitol Hill, is supposed to bring this tide of people under control. It has three central provisions:
First, it will now be unlawful for any American employer, except farmers, to hire illegal aliens. Enforcement sanctions include fines and prison terms for employers who ignore the law.
Second, it allows any illegal alien who has been in the US continuously since Dec. 31, 1981, to apply for permanent resident status and eventual citizenship. Between 2 million and 4 million people, mostly Mexicans, may qualify under this provision.
Third, it calls for sharply increased efforts to protect the border.
Public opinion polls have shown the American people overwhelmingly in favor of tough immigration reform. They want the flow of illegal aliens stopped.
Strict measures, however, were heatedly opposed by Hispanic groups, by businessmen and large agricultural interests that rely on cheap undocumented labor, and by a number of church groups, including many Roman Catholic leaders. Most of the illegal entrants are Catholics.
The new law goes into effect in stages. Illegal aliens who have been in the country since 1981 can begin applying for amnesty - the first step toward US citizenship - on May 5. Employer sanctions take effect in June.