Congress is showing a more restrictive attitude toward immigration. No federal law since prohibition, many believe, has been so flouted as is the current immigration law. The situation is "out of control," says Father Theodore Hesburgh, chairman of a government commission to investigate the matter. The commission has just completed a two-year study.
A congressional group, led by Sen. Walter D. Huddleston (D) of Kentucky, now proposes to double the size of the United States Border Patrol, increase its funds, and impose a ceiling of 350,000 immigrants a year. Legal immigration into the US is around 800,000 a year now, with illegal entries estimated at a million or more.
In 1977 the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) apprehended and turned back 1,042,215 deportable aliens. By one estimate, for each illegal apprehended, another slips in. The Hesburgh commission estimates 3 to 6 million illegals in the US. Other estimates are much higher.
The Hesburgh commission and other groups want employers punished who hire illegals and the development of an identification system that cannot be counterfeit.
John J. Gilligan, former administrator of the Agency for International Development, estimated in 1978 that 6 to 10 million Latin Americans "are now in this country illegally." He declared that "one-quarter of the adult Mexican work force is in the United States because they can't find work in their own country."
Population pressure is the chief reason the Mexican border is so leaky; political pressure has sent another flood from the Caribbean. A boatlift last year brought 125,000 Cuban "refugees," some of them released from prison and urged onto boats by Cuban authorities.
Senator Huddleston, cosponsor with eight others of restrictive legislation, declared here this week that "Fidel Castro really has more to say about how many people we bring to this country than does Congress or the executive branch."
Rep. Robin L. Beard (R) of Tennessee is pushing identical restriction bills in the House.
The Hesburgh commission, which reported Feb. 27 recommended more funds for the INS, punishment for employers hiring illegals, creation of "some system of more secure identification," and a temporary increase in immigration quotas to take care of a pile-up of relatives waiting abroad. It opposed as massive "guest worker program." President Reagan has expressed interest in such a program.
Mexico City's population is projected to reach 28 million by 1990, larger than the entire state of California. Mexico's growth rate is one of the world's highest, while in the US it is below 1 percent.
Funds for the INS are cut in President Reagan's austerity budget. With limited current funds, the US Border Patrol can only put about the same number of men along the 2,000 mile Mexican border as are used to police New York City.
President Reagan's view may be decisive on immigration. He is well aware of the need for good relations with oil-rich Mexico. Tighter border restraints would increase social pressure in Mexico and offend the government, it is believed.
Mr. Reagan has called the crossing of Mexicans into the US "a safety valve" and indicated it might somehow be rendered legal.
Senate Republicans await a clear signal from the Whit e House.