THE United States Senate will be watched closely this week - in Mexico, Ireland, China, Italy, India, and other nations around the world. Senators will be debating a bill that could effect millions of would-be immigrants to the US. The bill contains three major provisions:
1.It puts a ceiling of 600,000 on the number of immigrants who can be admitted to the US each year. That is an increase of 106,000 over the 1988 level.
2.It expands opportunities for people with skills and high levels of education to migrate to the US. The number of those admitted would be increased from 54,000 a year to 108,000 a year.
3.It would require a review every three years to adjust the number of legal immigrants.
These provisions have gathered bipartisan support in the Senate. But critics complain that the bill, cosponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts and Sen. Alan Simpson (R) of Wyoming, has immense loopholes and ducks some major problems.
For example, critics say the 600,000 ceiling is too high. They also point out that the ceiling isn't absolute. It can be exceeded under certain circumstances.
There are also objections that the new law, like the old one, is skewed to favor Latin Americans and Asians, and against Africans and Europeans. The Kennedy-Simpson bill adjusts the balance somewhat in favor of Africa and Europe, but only marginally.
Last year, a bill similar to this one breezed through the Senate on an 88-to-4 vote. But the House failed to act.
This year, the Senate is again expected to pass the bill, and the House, under new leadership, may be more receptive.
The critics, however, are unassuaged.
Pat Burns, assistant director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, says the Kennedy-Simpson bill ``makes no sense.'' Mr. Burns charges that Congress has failed to address the root problems of America's immigration policy. He says Kennedy-Simpson is a patched-together compromise that caved in to virtually every pressure group, from the League of United Latin American Citizens to the Irish.
``Kennedy should be more concerned about the 30 million people living in poverty in the United States than the 1 million unemployed in Ireland,'' Burns says.
There are also objections that the bill, like current law, gives too much weight to family reunification. In fact, some features of family reunification are strengthened under this bill.
Under current law and this new bill, newly naturalized US citizens are permitted to bring in millions of family members, without regard to America's labor needs.
Furthermore, although immigration will be limited in other categories, the number of persons who can migrate to the US under family reunification will remain essentially without limit.
Currently, about 219,000 close relatives of naturalized US citizens enter the US every year, mostly from Latin America and Asia. But federal officials are bracing themselves for a huge increase in that number in the mid-1990s. That's when 3 million formerly illegal immigrants, who were recently granted amnesty in the US, will be eligible for citizenship. Once they become American citizens, they can send for family members who are still abroad.
A congressional study predicted the number of such family members admitted to the US could jump to 480,000 a year by the mid-1990s. But an official of the Immigration and Naturalization Service says it could be far higher than that. If each of the 3 million new citizens brought in three relatives, the totals could rise to more than 1 million a year.
Most of these new family immigrants would be Mexicans, since they make up nearly 80 percent of the 3.1 million people granted amnesty under a 1986 law.
Senator Simpson and other advocates of reform, however, support the bill because for the first time it establishes a theoretical ceiling of 600,000 on the number of immigrants. So long as family reunification remains at current levels, the ceiling will hold.
An effort in the Senate Judiciary Committee to give more favorable treatment in the special category of skilled and professional immigrants to those who speak English was defeated on a 2-to-12 vote. Only Senator Simpson and Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina supported it.
The final bill was approved by the committee on a 12-to-2 vote, with only Sens. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah and Dennis DeConcini (D) of Arizona dissenting.