Not many U.S. domestic issues are as thorny as illegal immigration. This is one reason it endlessly persists despite the many efforts to solve it. Now a little-known commission has entered the fray with some provocative proposals. It deserves serious consideration, and its members deserve considerable praise for their efforts.
Hardly anyone noticed when the Commission for the Study of International Migration and Cooperative Economic Development was created. Or much cared. The panel arose out of fine print in the controversial Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. IRCA, as it is known, was supposed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into this country by prohibiting their employment. The law also increased manpower and funding for the U.S. Border Patrol and other immigration agencies. IRCA balanced this restrictionism with an amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Has IRCA worked? The amnesty program was a success, allowing more than 2 million otherwise honest people to come out of the shadows and become full participants in American society. But the employer sanctions are problematic. After the government imposed heavy fines on some violators, illegal border crossings declined in the first couple of years after the law was enacted. But this year the Immigration and Naturalization Service reports an increase in illegal immigration arrests.
Thankfully, the 12-member commission, chaired by a former Assistant Secretary of State Diego C. Asencio, did not revisit the arguments that preceded the enactment of IRCA. Instead, it focused on the \o7 worker-exporting \f7 countries--nations like Mexico that lose some of their most ambitious, hard-working people to us.
After three years of study throughout the Caribbean basin, the commission issued its report July 24. The domestic-policy proposal getting the most attention is the commission's recommendation that all the agencies--from the INS to the State Department's bureau of consular affairs--that deal with immigrants be brought together under a single agency headed by a presidential appointee.
This is a strikingly sane proposal that many observers have long supported, especially given how much impact immigrants--both legal and illegal--will have on future U.S. population growth. Other noteworthy proposals deal with foreign countries. Like many others who have looked at the long history of illegal immigration, the commission concluded that the only lasting solution is economic development in the labor-exporting countries. Among other things, the commission recommends:
--Push forward with a recently proposed free-trade agreement with Mexico.
--Give Mexico and Caribbean nations preference over Asian countries in selling products such as steel and cloth in this country.
--Increase sugar imports from several Caribbean countries.
--Increase funding for economic development efforts throughout the Western Hemisphere and work toward better coordination of those development programs already under way.
--Accelerate privatizing of the state-run economies of Mexico and other Latin American nations.
Chairman Asencio revealed an especially telling point when he made his commission report public. Because economic development can have short-term dislocating effects on the economy of a poor country, it may actually \o7 promote \f7 illegal immigration before finally slowing it down. "I must emphasize," Asencio said, "we are talking about a process that will probably take decades."
Indeed, it took generations for this country's current patterns of illegal immigration from Mexico, to cite just one example, to develop. These migratory patterns won't change overnight. The immigration commission has laid out a reasonable and carefully thought-out map to get us out of the immigration morass. President Bush and Congress must have the courage to take the first steps on the long journey.
ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION ARRESTS
Arrests made in San Diego sector (in thousands)
June 1990: 333,541
Source: U.S. Border Patrol