America's Immigration program has "failed" and "we have lost control of our borders." That is the stark verdict of the Reagan administration as it unveils its long-awaited immigration enforcement policy to Congress July 30. Mr. Reagan issues a statement and Attorney General William French Smith appeared before an unusual joint session of Senate and House immigration committees
Congressmen appeared to accept the administration's grim appraisal, but indicated reservations over the proposed remedies.
The administration would apply sanctions to US employers who hire illegal aliens in the hope of reducing the economic attraction for illicit entries. But it rejects the idea of a national identity card and proposes instead the submission of other proofs of identity or a combination of them. Business interests criticize the proposed burden, renforced by $1,000 fines, unless simplified by a noncounterfeitable card.
The proposed sweeping new immigration law includes a bigger US Border Patrol, an amnesty for upward of 3 million illegal aliens now in the United States, and an experimental, temporary worker program for up to 50,000 Mexican nationals annually. It also would deal with the refugee wave of Cubans and Haitians that flooded Florida last year.
In a statement, President Reagan declared that "we will work toward a new and realistic immigration policy, a policy that will be fair to our own citizens while it opens the door of opportunity for those who seek a new life in America." In a friendly comment, Reagan called for "a special relationship with our closest neighbors Canada and Mexico" and said he hopes to solve the problem with their help.
No one knows how fast illegal aliens are entering the US, and figures differed even in the administration's own presentation to Congress. Attorney General Smith estimated "a growth to one-quarter to one-half million each year," while his fact sheet put it at "a million to a million and a half." Smith estimated 3 million to 6 million illegals already are in the country. An estimate by Attoryney General Edward H. Levi during the Ford administration doubled this guess. About half of the illegals are believed to be Mexican nationals.
"No great nation," Smith told Congress, "can long countenance ineffective and unenforced laws." He proposed five related initiatives: increased enforcement with larger appropriations; a law imposing penalties against employers who knowingly hire illegals; a new experimental temporary worker (bracero) program for upward of 50,000 Mexican nationals annually; legal status or amnesty for several million illegal aliens now in the US, and a system of international cooperation within the Western Hemisphere.
The latter proposal would head off another so-called Mariel boatlift, which brought a wave of 125,000 Cubans to the beaches of southern Florida in 1980, including some prisoners and individuals classified as mentally ill. "Cuba has thus far refused to accept back these persons," Smith told the committee. Now come so-called refugees from Haiti and elsewhere. "The administration is determined not to permit another Mariel," he said.
The attorney general cited a recent poll showing that 9 of 10 Americans demand tighter enforcement. In 1964, only 50,000 illegals were apprehended in the US, he said. It was over a million in 1979.
The attorney general would increase enforcement funds by about $75 million and add 236 men to the Border Patrol. He rejects a proposed national identity card, but would punish employers who do not screen out illegals using other documents.
Smith asked Congress to authorize the proposed temporary worker program. He wants a two-year trial period to admit up to 50,000 Mexicans annually for stays of from nine to 12 months to fill certain job categories. He testified that in the past such workers "have been enormously beneficial" to the US and Mexico.
The administration also wants something done to give legal status to undocumented aliens already here. This was advocated by President Carter. Smith would grant limited legal status "to the productive and law-abiding members of this shadow population" and make them eligible for citizenship after 10 years of continuous residence.
Past methods of dealing with refugees "have crumbled," said the attorney general in an unusually frank and urgent statement. His fact sheet showed that immigrants -- legal and illegal -- are entering the US in greater numbers "than at any time since the early 1900s." Some 800,000 entered legally in 1980 -- an increase of 300,000 over 1979.
Smith would raise annual legal immigrant ceilings from Canada and M exico to 40,000 from the present 20,000.