Another spur to immigration reform

One of the thorniest problems Congress and the White House will face when they eventually get around to overhauling the nation's outdated immigration laws and policies will be how to eliminate discrimination from the statutes themselves and from the federal government's enforcement of them. If there were any lingering doubts in Washington as to the unfairness of current immigration practices, they should have been dispelled by the findings of a just released two-year study by the US Civil Rights Commission.

Among other things, the commission found that the 30-year-old Immigration and Nationality Act still contains numerous discriminatory provisions that "result in the denial of rights to American citizens" as well as to documented and undocumented aliens. For instance, the commission faulted federal agents and local police departments for conducting unconstitutional "searches and seizures" in their neighborhood sweeps for illegal aliens. In another area, it found that some would-be immigrants to the US wait up to ten years to gain entry while applicants from other countries, supposedly no more eligible to be admitted, get immediate attention.

The Civil Rights Commission has focused on only one small, albeit important, aspect of the much broader immigration issue that must be faced up to by Americans. Justifiably proud of its oft-proclaimed label as a "nation of immigrants," the US now is being forced to come to grips with the uncomfortable question of how to cope with the social, economic, and population strains of providing a home for an ever larger number of legal and illegal immigrants. A separate group -- the President's Select Commission on Immigration Policy -- is currently studying the overall problem. Among some of the key recommendations expected to be put forward by the select commission in its report to Congress next year: a bigger, better-trained Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) , stiffer laws against smuggling aliens into the US, and a worldwide quota of fewer than 1 million immigrants to the US (about the number of legal and illegal aliens believed to be entering the country this year.)

Along this line the Civil Rights Commission urges that the current limits on the number of immigrants from each country be eliminated and that they be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis in accordance with the six preference categories already in use (i.e., with priority given to relatives of US residents, professionals, scientists, etc.). However, the civil rights report has words of caution about some of the presidential commission's widely discussed proposals, such as the issuance of national identification cards which the civil rights group warns "could be used to violate the right to privacy of the individual." Three of the five members of the commission also cautioned against the use of compulsory work permits or enactment of a law to penalize employers who hire illegal aliens.

The split among the commission members on such controversial issues is no doubt indicative of the difficulties Congress and the President will encounter later on in trying to hammer out an equitable and effective immigration policy. In their zeal to defuse the potentially explosive immigration problem, the lawmakers ought not to lose sight of the importance of ensuring that the individual rights of every person within the US borders are respected and protected.

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