Will the US Congress muster the necessary courage and political will to enact a new immigration reform bill? Last year, you may recall, lawmakers came close to doing just that - finally imposing legal controls on the hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens entering the United States annually. The Senate passed the measure by a one-sided 80-19 vote. But the House, unfortunately, failed to act, even though it was widely believed that the votes were there for passage.
Clearly the time is at hand for enactment of the Simpson-Mazzoli bill. The US immigration problem, after all, would be considered intolerable in most nations. This year alone, according to Attorney General William French Smith, some 500, 000 illegal aliens will enter the US, joining the 3 million to 6 million illegals already on American soil. Yet, these new illegal aliens will come at a time when the nation has over 11 million of its own citizens unemployed.
Although opposed by many Hispanic and employer groups - who are particularly concerned about employer sanction provisions designed to ensure that firms do not knowingly hire illegals at the expense of US citizens - the measure could hardly be called draconian or unfair. It provides many safeguards designed to protect illegal aliens who have long resided in the US, and who have established homes and families. Among the main provisions in the bill:
* It grants amnesty to several million illegal aliens currently in the US.
* The cap that it imposes on total immigration to the US not related to political immigration (e.g., fleeing to the US to escape persecution) is set deliberately high: 450,000.
* It provides for admission of temporary guest workers who are employed in agricultural and seasonal work.
* The measure does provide sanctions against employers and firms who knowingly hire illegal aliens. But even here the bill provides numerous safeguards for business leaders who act in reasonable good faith.
* The measure does not call for a national identity card, as sought by organized labor, although such a card could be put into place by the president three years after the bill is signed into law. But given the fact that the Social Security Administration is now working hard to develop a fraud-proof social security card, such a national I.D. card would most likely never be required.
Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee adopted an amendment that should help allay some of the concerns from business and Hispanic groups about the employer sanction provisions. Under an amendment offered by Senator Kennedy, the General Accounting Office would be required to make annual reports on whether or not the employer sanctions provision was resulting in discrimination to workers seeking jobs; also, the GAO would have to measure the impact of the act on employers to determine if there was too much red tape, bureaucratic interference , etc.
The bill has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a House subcommittee. The full Senate is expected to take the issue up for a final vote in mid-May. The House Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, is expected to consider the bill soon.
It is imperative that the measure be enacted this year. Not to do so could derail immigration reform for years, since 1984 is a presidential election year, and many lawmakers will be reluctant to vote on anything so potentially contentious in a campaign setting. By every test, the Simpson-Mazzoli bill is a fair and comprehensive measure that deserves the solid support of Congress - and the American public.