US immigration dilemma: Is there too much 'compassion?'

There is "utter chaos" in parts of the immigration enforcement program, and America is reaching a state of "compassion fatigue." So cmments Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R) of Wyoming, one of 16 members of the Presidential Commission on Immigration Policy, which is concluding a two-year study on the subject. He spoke at a press conference here presided over by the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, chairman of the commission, and attended by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts and others of the panel.

Some 700,000 immigrants a year now enter the country legally in one category or another, the panel says, while another million may enter illegally.

In a next-to-final policy review, the Hesburgh commission recommended amnesty for most illegal aliens already in the United States (variously estimated at from 3.5 million to 6 million), and to impose civil and criminal penalties against employers knowingly hiring illegals.

It also proposed increasing the number of people legally allowed to immigrate by 180,000 a year for five years.

But on the key question of creating a worker identification card to determine the legality of job applicants, the commission split. Without such cards, some argue, enforcement against employers is impossible. The issue roused deep feeling within the commission, it is learned. The commission must conclude by March 1, and whether a vote will be taken on this issue is uncertain.

The Hesburgh commission, in a press summary, declares that the members feel "future migrations of undocumented aliens should be sharply reduced" and that they support sanctions against employers knowingly hiring them "by a large majority."

On the other hand, it states, "Those commissioners voting at this time rejected by a small majority the notion of a secure, counterfeit-proof document such as the social security card or worker eligibility card to be used in conjunction with employer sanctions . . ."

It is the likely that the enforcement battle will turn on this issue.

Senator Kennedy called immigration "one of the key policy questions of the world over the '80s" with America's compassion running up agianst limited resources.

US Rep. Hamilton Fish Jr (R) of New York, another commissioner, noted as estimated 16 million refugees composing "one of the world's most difficult problems." The Hesburgh commission is composed of four US senators, four House members, four Carter Cabinet members, and four persons from the public. Whether President-elect Reagan will replace the departing Cabinet members of the interval before March 1 is not known.

Emotional battles lie ahead. Pressure grows to limit immigration, with an estimated 7.5 million persons unemployed at home; controversy over identity cards has begun; recent entrance of Cuban, Haitian, and so-called "boat people" from Southeast Asia has stirred emotions; there is the issue of bilinqualism in some areas; and Hispanic groups protest some proposals of the commission. Mexican migration to the US has served as a safety valve for high unemployement and a high birthrate.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund says it "strongly opposes the commission's endorsement of employer sanctions and guest worker programs." The Reagan administration should set the recommendations aside, it says.

All votes in the commission so far are tentative, chairman Hesburgh says, and are subject to revision. But one commissioner won't change her vote against identification cards. US Secretary of Labor Patricia Roberts Harris is "unalterably opposed" to cards because of their possible misused agianst all workers who appear to be foreign and because of their resemblance to totalitarian systems.

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