Pending budget cuts for the US Border Patrol will open the way for surreptitious entry of tens of thousands of illegal immigrants into the United States, witnesses warn Congress.
A potential dispute between the White House and the legislative branch over immigration policy comes just after President Reagan appointed Attorney General William French Smith to direct a task force that will examine recommendations of a new, two-year federal immigration study.
Despite growing pressure on US borders from what may be the greatest influx of refugees and immigrants in American history, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has been forced to curtail border protection activity in the past year to save money.
The INS requested $385 million for fiscal year 1982, an increase of about $8. 9 million. Under Reagan's austerity budget, this is cut to $363.4 million. The administration's budget also proposes a personnel reduction to 9,531 -- 1,355 below earlier levels. Bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee may restore funds.
In addition to its regular work, the INS had to interview 60,000 Iranian students last year, process 125,000 Cubans who came as refugees in the boatlift, deal with 13,000 Haitians seeking political asylum in the Miami area, and process 200,000 refugees from Southeast Asia.
New Orleans district director Edwin Chauvin Jr. explained that the work was done with no increase in manpower.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, a member of the immigration budget subcommittee, said, "Migration pressures have never been greater throughout the world. More people are knocking on America's doors than ever before."
Richard L. Bevans, representing an association of border patrolmen, testified: "Our officers report that two or three illegals gain entry for each one apprehended -- with some estimates running as high as 10 to 1."
Helicopters have been an invaluable asset in checking the flow illegals across the US-Mexican border, Gene Wood, chief Border Patrol agent at the Chula Vista, Calif., sector, told a Senate judiciary subcommittee April 1.
But Border Patrol officer Bevans testified that several of the 12 INS helicopters have been grounded because of lack of funds for fuel. He cited other examples of alleged "false economy":
* Patrol cars on the 2,000-mile border have been limited to 10 or 20 miles per eight-hour shift to save gasoline.
* Saving $800 by not publishing required legal notices of seized vehicles meant "seizures dwindled from 154 vehicles valued at nearly $290,000 in the first four months of 1980 to 29 vehicles valued at $62,000 during May through September."
* Transfer of 25-to-30 Border Patrol agents to guard 30-to-50 Cubans institutionalized after the boatlift has cost an "estimated $175,000 a month, with no end in sight."
* Patrol vehicles are not being replaced, and some at El Paso, Texas, have reached the 200,000-mile mark.
The Reagan administration soon may make its policy known on Mexican immigration, perhaps when the recovered President makes his proposed trip to California and meets with Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo at the end of April.
In the meantime, the administration is cutting the budget.
"If INS attempts to continue business as usual with fewer resources, disaster is inevitable," testified John F. Kratzke, project director of a new management survey of the service. "It will collapse from the burden of paper work, increa sed workload, lost files, and archaic practices."