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Alternative Proposed for Illegal Alien Problem

June 07, 1986

In order for a Mexican to obtain official U.S. permission to visit our country, he must first satisfy a functionary at one of our consulates in Mexico that he is certain to return. To prove this, he is likely to be required to provide evidence of a steady job and a bank account in Mexico. Thus, under our existing policy, most impecunious Mexicans are unable to visit the U.S. legally.

Tens of millions of Mexicans can get across the border only by stealth, subterfuge or by being smuggled in. Vast numbers try; unknown numbers succeed. A majority of those who succeed return home voluntarily.

Most are attracted here by the temporary and part-time jobs that pay too little or are too onerous or demeaning to be acceptable to Americans.

Such migrants provide a cheap labor pool, which enables some companies to remain in the United States rather than moving offshore. The earnings the migrants take home to their impoverished families help the Mexican economy. The President's Council of Economic Advisers considers this ebb and flow of Mexican workers across the border to be advantageous to both countries.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is pushing hard for federal legislation to criminalize the hiring of undocumented Mexicans. In support of that objective, the agency supplies the media with "statistics" on illegal entries that are guesses, at best. The INS fails to mention that offsetting numbers of migrants return voluntarily to Mexico.

The INS uses various "rules of thumb" for its estimates of illegal entrants, ranging from two to five per "apprehension" of migrants seeking to enter illegally.

Many students of the problem believe that the INS ratios are greatly exaggerated. Many Mexicans are apprehended numerous times before they either succeed in getting beyond the border or give up trying. One border official reported apprehending the same Mexican in one day and sending him back each time. On the basis of that one person being apprehended 10 times, the INS would have us believe that between 20 and 50 others got in.

Before enacting the proposed anti-Mexican, anti-employer legislation, we ought to consider alternatives--preferably with Mexican participation.

Jointly, we ought to be able to devise a system for pre-screening that would legalize entry for short periods of time by law-abiding Mexicans. We would be in a far better position to monitor such legal visitors and assure their timely departure than we are with illegal visitors.

The legal alternative would divert many Mexicans from taking the risks inherent in attempted illegal entry. With respect to the jobs that go begging among Americans, U.S. employers would give preference to legal visitors--thereby accomplishing the objectives of Sen. Alan Simpson's (R-Wyo.) employer sanctions without resort to police-state methods.

Controlled legal entry would enable the Border Patrol to devote more of its resources to apprehending criminal intruders, such as drug smugglers--especially with Mexican cooperation.

E. MANNING GILES

San Diego

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