IT WAS A long State of the Union speech, but there was an important omission. This administration gave strong support to last year's effort to reform the immigration laws, so we assume that the omission of this item from the president's speech simply reflects a desire to focus on the economy and not a change of heart on this bill.
There has not been a major overhaul of the immigration laws in this country since 1952. In recent years, we have seen an unprecedented influx of refugees, both from Cuba and from Southeast Asia, and a dramatic increase in the number of illegal aliens who have come to this country to work. We really do not know how many of these undocumented workers are here, but conservative estimates put the figure at about 10 million. More will come as economic conditions deteriorate in other countries, and resistance will mount as unemployment rises here. A crisis is surely coming.
Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Romano Mazzoli (D-Ky.), chairmen, respectively, of the Senate and House immigration subcommittees, set out last year to overhaul the law before things get completely out of hand. Their proposal provides a flexible and humane framework for dealing with refugees, and offers a compromise on the issue of undocumented workers. Sanctions would be imposed on employers of illegal aliens with the objective of eliminating the incentive for unauthorized immigration. In exchange, amnesty would be granted to all undocumented workers who have been here since 1979.
The Simpson-Mazzoli bill was passed by the Senate on a vote of 80 to 19 last August. It was amended by the House Judiciary Committee and came to the floor in the closing days of the 97th Congress, only to be bogged down by a flood of dilatory amendments and withdrawn from consideration as time ran out. Some special interest groups, both ethnic and economic, will continue to fight any proposal that would limit the flow of cheap labor into the country. This does not mean, however, that there is not a large, if less vocal, majority in favor of reform. But it is important to get the ball rolling now, so that there will be time for consideration and compromise. The clock killed the bill last year. Responsible legislators will act now to see that this does not happen again.