Texas Gov. William Clements is like a football nose guard: a high ratio of force to nuance. When he clothes his thoughts in words, sparks fly, as they did when he recently explained why Texas, with 500,000 unemployed, needs workers from Mexico:

"(There) are a lot of jobs here in Texas that our so-called unemployed people will not accept, and I am talking about in heavy construction. I am talking about in the service industries, in our hotels and our restaurants and things like this, and all these people are receiving above the minimum wage, but our people just won't take those jobs. . . . Only about 15 percent of (Mexican workers in America) now work in agriculture. . . ."

Leaving aside the nose guard's provocative phrase ("so-called unemployed"), this much is clear:

Immigrants always have been hewers of American wood and drawers of American water. But now half of our immigrants are illegal. Now there is a welfare state that eases the pain of unemployment for American citizens, and entitles (or so courts are saying) illegal immigrants to many benefits. Now government is held politically accountable for aggregate economic activity. Now every president is committed, as the country is (in the Employment Act of 1946), to pursuing full employment.

By providing for "guest workers," the nation is almost acknowledging the existence of a category of jobs considered "beneath" Americans. That is but one difficulty as the nation struggles to establish an essential element of sovereignty: control of its borders.

This "nation of immigrants"--an open society with open borders--is experiencing a tide of illegal immigrants. Such immigrants often are desperate, courageous--and better citizens than many citizens. But the tide must be slowed, and a bill to do that--a bill drafted by Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Romano Mazzoli (D-Ky.)--has passed the Senate. However, it may break like a bubble on the sharp edges of the House of Representatives, where interests are many and time is short.

That would be unfortunate. The bill refutes those who say that every day in every way the government knows less and less about more and more. The bill is based on a lot of looking at facts. Like most important bills, passage depends on a reasonable division of legislative labor. A few legislators have done months of work becoming specialists. Such diligence should earn the deference of the majority.

The bill adopts the most efficient approach to limiting illegal immigration: sanctions against employers who hire "undocumented" workers. It provides several kinds of amnesty for illegal immigrants.

The amnesty provisions pose administrative nightmares for officials who can only guess how many millions of illegal immigrants there are. Amnesty is a national policy imposing burdens on states. The bill does not solve the problem of sharing the burdens equitably. The bill would restrict even legal immigration. (The problem of youth unemployment, especially among black youth, makes it urgent to restrict competition for "entry level" jobs.) But in doing so the bill would limit the number of persons admitted each year for the purpose of family reunification. The bill would be better if it did not.

But the clock is running out on this Congress. If the House pursues perfection--if members will not defer to the judgment of those who have earned deference--the good of all the labor may be largely lost.

The House is the only thing in Washington the Democrats run. The House has one fundamental task: originating appropriations bills. Two weeks before the planned adjournment, only two of 13 appropriations bills had been sent to the Senate. Such incompetence (or cynicism--Democrats may prefer slapdash government to the orderly involvement of the Republican-controlled Senate) should be punished at the polls.

Meanwhile, bills such as Simpson-Mazzoli may be stalled, and then dumped into post-election session. One problem with announcing "lame duck" sessions is that those sessions become dumping grounds -- and then burial grounds -- for everything controversial.

Many illegal immigrants contribute more in taxes than they receive in benefits, and they work the way our immigrant ancestors did: hard. I am told that you can spot illegal immigrants driving on Los Angeles freeways: they are conspicuously careful because they cannot risk a run-in with the law. The only immigration bill that can pass this year would, through amnesty, enable some immigrants to become as reckless as the rest of us. The rest of us might try being as industrious as immigrants. the post-election session. One problem with announcing "lame duck" sessions is that those sessions become dumping grounds --and then burial grounds -- for everything controversial.

Many illegal immigrants contribute more in taxes than they receive in benefits, and they work the way our immigrant ancestors did: hard. I am told that you can spot illegal immigrants driving on Los Angeles freeways: they are conspicuously careful because they cannot risk a run-in with the law. The only immigration bill that can pass this year would, through amnesty, enable some immigrants to become as reckless as the rest of us. The rest of us might try being as industrious as immigrants.