Key step on immigration reform

It is encouraging that a Senate subcommittee has given unanimous approval to legislation providing civil fines and criminal penalties for employers knowingly hiring illegal aliens. The measure, part of the Simpson-Mazzoli bill, represents the first crucial step in what could eventually be a comprehensive new United States immigration law.

Under the legislation approved by the subcommittee, employers of more than three people would have to require new workers to show proof that they are legal residents. Fines for knowingly hiring illegal aliens would range from $1,000 for each illegal alien for first offenses to $2,000 per worker for subsequent offenses. If the employer engages in a ''pattern'' of hiring illegals, there could be a jail sentence of up to six months.

The measure will face stiff opposition in the weeks ahead from employer groups and from some Hispanic organizations which contend that such an approach could make businessmen fearful of hiring any Hispanics lest they turn out to be illegal aliens. But sanctions are indispensable to a tough new immigration law and should be adopted by Congress. Only by imposing such penalities can the US begin to stem the unlawful massive influx of aliens into the country and at last gain control of its borders.

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