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Gallegly Calls Immigration Plan Good Step : Government: Rights advocates say the Clinton initiatives should redirect funds to social services.


Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) on Tuesday called President Clinton's proposal to crack down on illegal immigration a "good first step toward solving the crisis," but Ventura County immigrant rights advocates said the initiatives are misguided.

Gallegly, who has introduced his own controversial, hard-line measures to curb illegal immigration, emphasized that "much more has to be done."

Clinton proposed expediting hearings for those seeking political asylum; using anti-racketeering laws to combat smuggling of illegal aliens; toughening criminal penalties against smugglers; increasing the Border Patrol, and improving visa application procedures.

The President's program has a $172.5-million price tag for the next fiscal year.

"It's important that we quickly reform our asylum policies, and I certainly agree that we must target the lucrative alien smuggling rings," Gallegly said in a news release. "But we must remember that the biggest part of the illegal immigration problem--our southern border--is not being substantially addressed in this package."

But Armando Garcia, the chairman of the Coalition for Immigrant Rights in Oxnard, said the millions that would be spent to add Border Patrol guards should be redirected to social services or for alleviating the backlog in paperwork for legal immigrant applications.

"People, especially Mr. Gallegly, are trying to blame the economic problems in our country on the wrong people," Garcia said.

Garcia said it is not only Mexico and South America that contribute to the country's illegal immigration problem.

"The United States is a magnet for people all over the world," he said, citing the boatloads of illegal Haitians and Chinese who have arrived at U.S. ports.

Lee Pliscou, an attorney for the California Rural Legal Assistance in Oxnard, said immigrants, both legal and illegal, are productive residents of the country who do the jobs that U.S. citizens do not want.

"They are here working, putting far more into the system than they will ever take out," Pliscou said.

Speeding up the system to determine whether an immigrant is eligible for political asylum may result in sending legitimate political refugees back to their deaths at home, he said.

"In the old days of the Wild West, justice was swift, but you ran the risk of hanging the wrong man," he said.

Gallegly, a member of the judiciary subcommittee on international law, immigration and refugees, said he appreciated that more Democrats, including Clinton, are recognizing the growing public opposition to illegal immigration. He was one of three Republican House members who attended a White House ceremony where the President's program was revealed.

Administration and congressional sources said they expect Clinton to propose further reforms that seek to address the southern border following the confirmation hearings this fall for Doris Meissner, his nominee to head the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Clinton previously announced new steps last month to combat the smuggling of aliens into the country by ship.

Gallegly noted that Clinton has called for hiring an additional 600 Border Patrol agents only after the House approved an amendment this month to do the same thing. Long an advocate of beefing up the Border Patrol, Gallegly co-sponsored the legislation.

But Pliscou said the efforts may prove futile.

"As long as there are hungry people in Mexico, we're going to have people crossing the border looking for work here so they can feed their families back home."

Alan C. Miller reported from Washington and Joanna M. Miller from Ventura.

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