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Fairness and immigration reform

IT'S time for Congress and the Reagan administration to get their act together and enact an immigration control bill. To not do so this year could once again imperil the likelihood of such legislation being adopted -- what with the tug and pull of midterm election-year pressures during 1986. Is there something necessarily inconsistent and unfair about a nation of immigrants -- that is, the United States -- wanting to control its own borders? Opponents of an immigration reform law have made that argument. And indeed, at first glance, one might almost think they were right, given the inherent difficulty that immigration legislation has faced during the past decade.

Yet, there is no real inconsistency. The issue is not so much one of keeping people out as it is of defining the criteria by which people can legally be admitted. The current system, under which hundreds of thousands of people annually flout border laws to come to live in the United States, while thousands of others in countries around the world wait years to gain legal access -- and are often turned away in their quest -- is inherently unfair.

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Continuing immigration is desirable, economically and culturally. Immigrants bring important qualities of vitality and resourcefulness to the job market. They also bring new ideas, new patterns of thought, that are important elements of a thriving melting-pot civilization. The point is that such immigration should be legal, not illegal.

The White House, for its part, is now working toward shaping a leaner, simpler version of the legislation that came close to enactment last year, the so-called Simpson-Mazzoli bill. That legislation, recall, expired in a conference committee.

A ``simplified'' bill would make sense. At the least, the legislation should do two things: It should provide legal sanctions against employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens; and it should provide some form of amnesty for illegal aliens who have lived in the US for a long period of time. These ``illegals,'' in most cases, have already established roots in American communities. Their children are in schools. They tend to have steady jobs. Forcing them to go back to their homelands at this juncture would be unfair. The US, after all, is now their home.

One other aspect warrants attention: The US Border Patrol should be upgraded and enlarged.

It is essential that Americans regain control over their own borders. An immigration control bill is long overdue.

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