The current debate over the control of illegal aliens borders less on a crisis than it does, distantly, on hysteria, a not unfamiliar emotion in Amercia's dealings with aliens.
That if the number of illegal aliens in the United States is 6 million, the attorney general's maximum estimate, the total is roughly 2.5 percent of America's population of 225 million, hardly of crisis proportions.
That although there is neither certainty nor unanimity among population experts as to the optimum number of people for the United States, the "birth dearth" in the 1970s is likely to result in serious labor shortages in the coming generation.
We are told, as if banishing the illegal aliens would be the cure, that controls must be placed upon them because of the continuing high unemployment in the United States.
As diverse as are the opinions on unemployment, inflation, the business cycle and economic growth, no economist has ever vouchsafed this solution. Such economists as John Kenneth Galbraith have suggested the opposite, that immigration promotes an expansion in the economy.
If the need for controls on illegal aliens is uncertain, the effectiveness of the methods intended to control them is even more dubious.
It is suggested that if employers are forbidden to hire illegal aliens, their jobs will dry up and that this will deter the under- and unemployed from other countries from coming here.
One need only look to the experience in prosecuting and jailing aliens who cross the border illegally. Their imprisonment has not deterred even those who have served time in jail from repeating the offense, much less those who have never been caught. If the threat of jail for illegal border crossers had not worked, how likely it is that even a vain search for employment will keep the starving but enterprising Mexican at home?
Moreover, his search for a job need not be fruitless. The most rigorous proposal requires that he obtain a national identity card. Will this be hard to get? All that is needed is a birth certificate showing birth in the United States, easily available from any counterfeiter.
So, too, for the "counterfeit-resistant" Social Security card and , too, for the "work authorization number," suggested by someone with a touch of the comic, to be verified by an employer whose only responsibility would be to make a toll-free telephone call to a government agency, presumably for an instant answer!
The truth is that none of these systems will work. The explanation for the legislative package of 1) employer sanctions, 2) a worker identification system, and 3) amnesty for the illegal alien is political. The opinion polls show that 91 percent of the American people want something to be done. Uprooting the 6 million illegal aliens already established in the United States is impossible. So legalize them and deter the future illegals. One does not need to be cynical to know that the legislative package is intended merely to give the apperance of solving a problem for which there are no easy answers.
However, the absence of a solution for the immigration problem does not mean the legislative proposals will not have other consequences. The requirement of proof for authority to work would bring a qualitative change in the life- and work-style of all Americans. All of us, not just the illegal aliens, will be required to prove that we are authorized under the law to accept employment. The proposal for a government-issued universal work identifier will hobble millions of people in search of jobs: those who can't prove birth in the United States, those who have lost their cards, those whose need for a job is more urgent than is the response of the government processor. The impact upon those Americans who are thought to "look or speak foreign" will be especially great. Employers who will not risk the employment of an illegal alien will hire only those who look "American."
Congress will do well to forgo a burdensome but simple-minded solution to the problem of the migratory movement of people from one country to another.