The immigration crisis: an inside view

"We have lost control of our borders. We have pursued unrealistic policies. We have failed to enforce our law effectively."m -- Attorney General William French Smith

Unfortunately, the administration's prescription for this problem is a palliative, apparently designed to placate the 91 percent of Americans wanting an all-out effort to stop illegal immigration and the 80 percent favoring lower legal quotas, without fundamentally altering the status quo.

Over 800,000 legal immigrants and "refugees" were permitted to enter the United States in 1980, a rate which may exceed the record decade 1901-10. In 1979 1,076,418 deportable aliens were located, yet the attorney general estimates that the ranks of the three million to six million still at large are increasing. Meanwhile, aliens submit over two million applications per year. Political asylum claims alone have zoomed from 3,800 in 1978 to over 60,000 in 1981.

Facing this onslaught is the tiny US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The 1980 government outlay of over $2 billion for refugee expenses was seven times greater than the entire INS budget. The service is everywhere short of personnel and logistical support. Most of its offices lack even detention facilities to hold illegals.

Once past the airport or land borders, illegal aliens are virtually immune from detection, since INS has only 700 investigators nationwide. Its present cumbersome appeal procedures guaratee that few illegals who are apprehended will be ultimately removed. Little wonder that last year only 150 were deported from a district covering Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

As working immigration officers, we are discouraged because we are denied the resources to enforce the law and are being officially induced to finesse it (admitting "refugees" and "asylees" who do not meet legal definitions, overlooking visa fraud and perjury, granting residence on the basis of dubious marriages and "paper families," etc.) in a cynical pursuit of "approval statistics" to appease special interests.

As concerned citizens, we cannot fathom how, in an era of scarcity, unemployment, persistent domestic poverty, and an incipient cultural and linguistic crisis between Spanish and English speakers, such huge legal and illegal immigration can be tolerated. We believe the administration's proposals must be purged of some major flaws.

1. Presently the Reagan plan includes no overall capm on the total number of legal immigrants and refugees. Immigrant visas are not free goods; they have budgetary and societal costs to be weighed against the benefits. We suggest that the annual "immigration budget" of 350,000 proposed in Sen. Walter Huddleston's bill (S-776) would retain America's position as the world's most generous receiver of immigrants, while returning legal immigration to manageable levels.

2. A complicated conditional amnestym would be unworkable for INS, an invitation for fraud and further illegal influxes, and a demographic bombshell. If three million aliens are "legalized" and each asserts his right to confer residence on only three to five foreign relatives, this "multiplier effect" will push nine million to 15 million extra people into the US immigration system.

We already grant de facto amnesty to tens of thousands within the existing immigration act. Under Section 245, for example, contracting marriage to a lawful resident expunges nearly all immigration violations.

3. "Guestworkers" have been proven failure in Europe and during the US "bracero program" of 1942-64. The workers, who cannot be effectively monitored, tend to stay and bring their families, seek "middle class" jobs, and attract more migrants. The importation of such a foreign "underclass" distorts the economy by inhibiting modernization, a true valuation of goods and services, and fair wages to domestic workers. What major industrial nation is planning to ride into the 21st century on the backs of unskilled laborers? Is the hidden agenda merely to "legalize" illegals for the benefit of certain employers -- the traditional exploiters?

4. Employer sanctions won't be effective unless (a) a means of identifying legal workers is created; (b) investigators and prosecutors are specifically assigned; and (c) violators are actually prosecuted.

5. If the President is serious about reforming our immigration system, he must overcome years of neglect by staffing, funding, and modernizing the INS. It is essential that the commissioner's post, vacant for two years, be filled by an outstanding nominee, dedicated to enforcement and protected from political interference.

It is time to act, for a nation which cannot control the number or character of aliens within its borders has sacrificed a good measure of its sovereignty and command of its future.

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