Last week's roundup of more than 5,000 illegal aliens across the United States by the Immigration and Naturalization Service underscored the fact that such aliens are filling a broad range of jobs at a time when domestic unemployment is running at a high level. But such a mass sweep--called ''Operation Jobs''--was more symbolic than substantive in result. It certainly did not represent a long-range solution to the immigration tangle. Many of the illegal workers are back at their jobs. And employers note that few unemployed Americans applied for the jobs involved in the raids, perhaps an indication that many aliens are correct when they insist that they are merely working in marginal positions that most Americans would not consider filling.
Still, no one would deny that the government has a responsibility to enforce existing immigration laws. In fact, one legitimate complaint over the years is that the INS, and successive administrations in Washington, have failed to take strong enough steps to check an illegal influx into the US that is estimated at between 300,000 and well over l million persons annually. Acknowledging the need for stiffer enforcement, however, is not to condone abuses of civil rights in the enforcement process, nor the fact that Latins appeared to have been the main target of arrest this past week rather than illegal aliens in general. In that sense, formal protests by Mexico about the way the raids were carried out should be given careful heed by both the INS and the US State Department.
The dubious INS operation clearly points up the importance of speedy enactment of a new immigration bill that puts the onus where it belongs--on employers hiring illegal aliens. The Simpson-Mazzoli bill, now being considered by Congress, is basically sound legislation that addresses the issue in a fundamental way. It ought to be passed as quickly as possible.