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A good immigration bill

The Reagan administration, Congress -- and not least of all the American people -- at last have in hand an immigration bill that deserves swift and decisive enactment. In fact, everything seems to be gradually falling into place for this excellent bipartisan measure, which was introduced by the chairmen of the Senate and House immigration subcommittees, Senator Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, and Congresssman Romano Mazzoli, a Kentucky Democrat. Lawmakers have certainly not overlooked the fact that the legislation is winning praise from such disparate political sources as Senator Edward Kennedy and Attorney General William French Smith. Nor is it overlooked that the measure is a more equitable and comprehensive immigration package than one introduced by the White House in August 1981.

Clearly, the time is at hand to bring an end to the intolerable flouting of US borders by illegal aliens. Curbing such an awesome influx -- estimated to be as many as 500,000 persons a year, joining the 3 million to 6 million or more illegals who are already in the US -- is not just a question of protecting American jobs in a period of economic downturn, although that is certainly a legitimate consideration. It is also a matter of fairness and national sovereignty; fairness, since it is inexcusable that many persons in other lands often must wait years, sometimes in vain, for the opportunity to emigrate to the US, while illegals sneak across those same borders with impunity; sovereignty, because a nation that loses control of its borders has to a large extent lost control of determining its own future.

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What makes the Simpson-Mazzoli bill so promising is that it combines sanctions against employers for hiring illegal aliens with a basically equitable method of dealing with illegals already living within the US. The bill, unlike the administration bill, also imposes an absolute ceiling on the number of persons that could be admitted into the US annually (except for refugees, who would continue to be admitted under a 1980 statute).

* Sanctions: Under the bill, employers hiring undocumented workers would be subject to a $1,000 fine and six months' imprisonment for a conviction. The administration bill also provides for employer sanctions. Job applicants would have to show proof of legal immigrant status, such as, for the first three years , a birth certificate, social security card, driver's license, etc.

Eventually, a permanent, nonforgeable identification card could be issued. Whether such a permanent card would be in the nation's best interest, however, is a question that will have to be given special consideration by lawmakers.

* Ceilings: Unlike the administration plan, the Simpson-Mazzoli bill would establish an overall legal nonrefugee immigration ceiling of 425,000 annually (roughly the same as current immigration, excluding refugees), with all countries but Canada and Mexico being limited to not more than 20,000 immigrants. The two US neighbors would be limited to ceilings of 40,000 each, but could draw upon unused visas from other nations.

* Equity: Under the earlier administration proposal, illegal aliens already in the US could seek a permanent residency status after having lived there for 10 years. Under Simpson-Mazzoli, illegals who have lived there since 1978 could be given lawful permanent residence. Five years after such status they could apply for US citizenship.

* Guest workers: The Simpson-Mazzoli measure does not have a guest-worker or ''bracero'' program, as does the administration approach. Instead, the measure would streamline the existing guest program for such nations as Mexico and Jamaica.

There are many other elements about the Simpson-Mazzoli bill warranting comment, such as the fact that the legislation would provide for 70 additional administrative law judges to help the understaffed US Immigration and Naturalization Service; and that the bill would maintain preference for families of US citizens and permanent residents. At the same time, critics may properly ask whether it would be wise or compassionate policy to eliminate brothers and sisters of US citizens or legal residents from the preferred admissions list, as the measure would do, while also imposing severe restrictions on the number of Amerasian children that could be brought into the US yearly.

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Still, the crucial point is that on balance the Simpson-Mazzoli bill represents a comprehensive approach towards at last restoring order, fairness -- and firmness -- to US immigration policy. For such reasons it should be enacted into law.

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