SEN. WALTER HUDDLESTON (D-Ky.) raises a fair question -- and certainly the one most on people's minds -- about the administration's new refugee bill, which is about to come to the Senate floor. Given the relentless capacity of the rest of the world to generate refugees, he asks, how can the United States be sure it won'd be swamped? His own answer is to allow refugee admissions, over the 50,000 "normal" flow specified in the bill, only up to the overall legal immigration ceiling. Additional refugee admissions would come out of regular immigration quotas. By contrast, the administration bill would let the president consult with Congress to set the ceiling each year. This year, even without a new law, the refugee figure is about 200,000.

Mr. Huddleston is right in observing that, in these pinched times, various elements of American society have reservations about accepting too many refugees. These reservations are deplorable or prudent, depending on your point of view, but they are understandable and they do exist. The senator is wrong, however, in giving currency to the notion that the new bill would open the gates. Even if you can imagine a president's ignoring the constraints of public opinion, the bill's provisions for consultation on the refugee ceiling, not to speak of the requirement for congressional funding of refugee resettlement, ensure a continuing congressional rein.

In fact, the administration's bill, which is supported by those legislators most experienced in refugee matters, is not an extravagant affair. It would establish a permanent structure, in place of the existing mishmash, for processing refugee admissions. It would bring the ceilings for "normal" flows, and the procedures for coping with "emergency" flows, into closer line with the requirements of American foreign policy and American tradition as successive presidents have determined them. But the bill would not preempt the more comprehensive conclusions expected from the two-year study that a Select Committee on Immigration and Refugee Policy was commissioned to make last year. And most assuredly, it would not allow in "too many" refugees.