Perfectly serviceable if not sufficiently compelling, "The Newcomers," a WJLA documentary airing at 8 tonight on Channel 7, looks at a number of problems raised by the swelling ranks of local immigrants, legal and otherwise, who expect a promised land to keep its promises. They do not arrive here uninvited after all; a torch beckons them, even from within the temporary prison of restorers' scaffolding.

The resourceful Paul Berry reports on the kinds of fates that befall the estimated 250,000 immigrants who now live in the Washington area. In Arlington, which has become home to large numbers of Vietnamese e'migre's, a 7-Eleven store employe says of his adopted land, "I feel very happy. I accept everything." But most of the stories told are not so happy. A Hispanic woman who gives birth to a child learns that the child is a citizen for having been born here, yet the mother may be forced to leave when her visa expires.

Cameras follow immigration officers in the course of their painful duties -- which pain them to varying degrees, sometimes imperceptibly -- and visit local construction sites where illegal aliens are believed to have been hired by the bus load.

The nation's immigration laws are "complicated, confusing and almost impossible to enforce," Berry says. They are "cumbersome and contradictory" too but "they're also a reflection of American attitudes." One recent arrival complains dejectedly that he has learned America is no longer "the land of opportunity and wealth."

Honest attempts are made to cover the problem from various viewpoints, but the program tends to wander in its considerations, and fails to state clearly enough at the outset what the major points are going to be. So one may get the feeling of sitting through an immigration primer rather than of gleaning specific, incisive analysis.

The documentary answers one question: Is there life for this kind of programming at Channel 7 after the departures of Paul and Holly Fine, the multiple-award-winning producers who graduated to "60 Minutes"? The answer is a slightly hesitant yes. "The Newcomers" is a commendable piece of work, but it is not a house afire.