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Foreign-Aid Spending: Not What It Used to Be

The editorial "Stretching Aid Dollars," March 22, greatly overstates the budget of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The agency's actual budget for 1996 is $6.5 billion, not $12.1 billion, as the editorial states.

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Widespread misperceptions of foreign aid make this fact particularly important to correct. A January poll in The Washington Post found that 58 percent of those asked thought that foreign aid commands a greater share of the federal budget than Medicare. In truth, Medicare is 20 times the size of the foreign-aid budget. While respondents to a 1995 University of Maryland poll said an appropriate level of foreign aid would be 5 percent of the federal budget, foreign assistance actually represents less than 1 percent of the budget.

Total foreign-aid spending is now less than half of what it was during the Reagan administration. The United States, which accounted for more than 60 percent of all the foreign assistance in the world in the 1950s, now provides around 15 percent.

Despite this dramatic decline, foreign aid remains a target for congressional budget-cutters. Further reductions would be dangerously shortsighted; the small investment in foreign aid produces great returns by promoting democracy, free markets, and America's foreign-policy objectives around the globe.

Jill Buckley Washington

Acting Deputy Administrator, USAID

Controlling illegal immigration

Few would quarrel with Texas Rep. Lamar Smith's statement that illegal immigration needs to be controlled (opinion-page article "Immigration Reform," March 7). The border-enforcement measures in legislation he and Sen. Alan Simpson have introduced enjoy broad support. But opposition to these bills is growing for two reasons:

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They cut the number of legal immigrants - including family members of American citizens and refugees. The bills also expand the federal bureaucracy and impose new burdens on businesses, workers, and state and local governments. Two examples: a new federal database that employers will have to check before hiring workers, and federal standards for the issuance of birth certificates. Congress should follow the Senate Judiciary Committee's lead by splitting these bills and passing the provisions to strengthen enforcement against illegal immigration. That would deliver results on the immigration issue that matters most to the public, and it would not saddle American workers, businesses, and families with a set of new bureaucratic requirements from Washington.

Philip Peters Arlington, Va.

Senior Fellow

Alexis de Tocqueville Institution

College athletes: walking billboards

The editorial "School as Billboard," March 4, refers to Burger King ads on school buses. It reminds me that my alma mater, the University of Michigan, now uses football players as billboards. A $7 million contract with Nike Inc. puts the Nike logo on each player's uniform. It's disconcerting when public schools sell out to commercial interests in this way.

Lawrence B. Schlack Kalamazoo, Mich.

Preventing terrorism

Thank you for the opinion-page article "Respond to Terrorism With Restraint, Not Revenge," March 14. It's helpful to remind ourselves that many Israelis, as well as Palestinians, recognize the need for restraint and trust that a lasting peace can be established. A true sense of justice embraces innocents caught in the middle at the same time that it condemns terrorist acts and arrests the perpetrators.

The US should help both Israelis and Palestinians to prevent terrorism from stifling their sense of justice and fairness.

Jerry Jordan Portland, Ore.

Your letters are welcome. For publication they must be signed and include your address and telephone number. Only a selection can be published and none acknowledged. All letters are subject to editing. Letters should be addressed to "Readers Write" and sent to One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617-450-2317, or by e-mail (200 words maximum) to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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