US anxious to weave new threads into immigration net

Like a not-very-alert guard at the entrance to a private estate, current US immigration policies are failing to catch many intruders. But on those occasions when intruders are caught, the "guard" is usually accused of acting too tough.

This is the dichotomy facing the United States as it tries to regain control over who can enter -- and stay -- in this country.

Recommendations for a major overhaul of US immigration laws are beginning to emerge from a high-ranking commission set up by Congress to propose changes.

Larry Fuchs, executive director of the commission, outlines some proposals getting close attention:

* A hard-to-counterfeit worker identification card for all American citizens and legal aliens.

* A larger, better-trained Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

* Stronger laws against smuggling aliens into the US -- a problem pointed up by the deaths in Arizona last week of at least 13 persons from El Salvador. They had been smuggled across the Mexican border and left to fend for themselves in 110-degree F. heat without food, water or shelter.

* Closer cooperation with countries (such as Mexico) from which many illegal aliens come to the US. One possibility: loans for starting factories in high-unemployment areas in those countries.

* A worldwide quota of fewer than 1 million legal immigrants to the US (about the combined number now coming legally as well as illegally). Three categories would be established: those with families already here; workers needed; refugees.

* Legalization of the estimated 3.5 million to 6 million aliens (about half of them thought to be Mexicans) already here.

"We want to bring people in because we want them in," Mr. Fuchs told the Monitor. "We want to avoid cops and rubbers [situations at the borders], avoid fear, avoid health problems, avoid exploitation, avoid labor market problems."

The latest indication of the problems arising under current immigration policies is a July 3 ruling by a federal judge in Miami on the fate of 15,000 Haitians in south Florida.

Judge James Lawrence King ruled that the INS acted with "prejudice" in denying virtually all claims by Haitians that they face persecution if returned to Haiti.

Unless overturned on appeal, the ruling means the Haitians must be granted new, unrushed hearings on their claims to political asylum. That process, says one lawyer for the Haitians, could take "10 to 15 years."

Leaving Haiti, even to seek work, marks one as a malcontent, the Haitians maintain, and leaves him subject to arrest, detention, and possible mistreatment if he returns.

Judge King ruled that INS officials decided not to believe such claims and systematically prepared to expel the Haitians under a program that is "an offense to every notion of constitutional due process and equal protection."

Another recent indication of the problems of current immigration policies is the illegal influx of more than 115,000 Cubans since late April in the flotilla from the port of Mariel.

The Carter administration has decided to let the Hatians and Cubans stay for six months and to seek legislation granting them legal status and some federal benefits.

But attorneys for the Haitians point out that if Congress fails to pass such legislation, the Haitians' fate would again rest solely on the outcome of new INS hearings. Moreover, the legal status proposed by the administration provides fewer federal benefits than if the Haitians were granted political asylum.

Of concern to immigration officials is what kind of "signal" the recent decision allowing the Cubans and Haitians to stay will have on the rest of the world's poor and oppressed. Worried officials wonder how many more such people will be encouraged to come.

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