THE executive-legislative-public commission that Congress and the president created two years ago to sort out the tangle of immigration and refugee policy is about to issue its final report. It's a good thing, too. The massive flow of illegal aliens across the Mexican border and successive flotillas of "boat people" have produced in the public a sharp sense that the United States has lost control over this vital and sensitive area of its national life. There was some thought that it might help to pause to "Reaganize" the Carter-appointed Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy. But the consensus of the key people, including Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), Rep. Romano Mazzoli (D-Ky.) and the chairman, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, is that it makes more sense for the commission to wrap up its work of making recommendations so that the process of legislating can begin.
Within the commission there are, as intended, many points of view on the central issue of what to do about illegal immigration. Nonetheless, a consensus has evolved in support for a broad package deal. The millions of illegals already here would be legalized; the numbers and the legal and political difficulties make it virtually impossible to dig them up and deport them anyhow. The American people cannot be expected to accept this step, however, in the consensus view, unless they are assured that another flood of illegals will not then step in. This will require, among other things, more effective border controls, sanctions to punish employers who hire illegals (who come mostly for the jobs), and some way to identify the illegals. The identification requirement poses vexing issues of civil liberties and administration, and the commission may buck that one to Congress with some of its disagreements intact.
Although President-elect Reagan comes from a part of the country in which illegal immigration is a daily and pervasive phenomenon, he is not identified strongly with a single approach to it. In fact, the whole question of immigration and refugee policy lends itself increasingly poorly to regional or, for that matter, partisan thinking. What the commission has done is to set out a framework in which traditional American values of openness, fairness and ethnic diversity, which don't change, can be reconciled with national economic and social conditions, which do change. Its recommendations should give Congress and the new administration something that the political system has not enjoyed before on this set of issues -- a basis for intelligent choice.