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Immigration 'Reform' Looks a Lot Like Politics

The need for remedies is real, but this bill is too harsh

September 25, 1996

After an internal Republican struggle that, revealingly, focused more on the politics of immigration than on real reform, Congress is finally on the verge of enacting changes in U.S. immigration law. There is no denying that this country must try to solve the problems posed by illegal immigration. But the measure now going to the House and Senate has some key flaws.

There are elements in the legislation worth supporting. These include a provision that aims to deter illegal immigration by increasing the size of the U.S. Border Patrol. Another sensible provision would set up pilot programs to verify the legal immigration status of all workers seeking a new job; it is intended to help employers screen out illegal immigrant workers in a nondiscriminatory matter.

But the overall measure, as it stands after a House-Senate conference, goes far beyond any reasonable means of controlling illegal immigration. It comes down harshly on thousands of legal immigrants for no reason other than that immigrant-bashing is seen by some in Congress as being good politics these days.

Take, for example, the provision that deals with public assistance. Under the proposed new law a legal immigrant who had been working and paying taxes in this country for 10 years but had to go on welfare for just one year would become deportable.

The proposed law also sharply curbs the power of the courts to hold the Immigration and Naturalization Service legally accountable, decreeing that only the U.S. Supreme Court can issue injunctions against the INS--even when INS decisions may violate the law or the Constitution. American citizens would never tolerate such discretionary power for any other government agency, like the Internal Revenue Service or the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Congress can and should revisit those issues in its next session, when the political passions surrounding the immigration issue may have cooled enough to allow for a more reasoned approach to a dauntingly complex issue. The current bill has too many fundamental problems to be acceptable.

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