MAJOR IMMIGRATION reform legislation has now been passed by the Senate and chances are good that the House will act early this summer. The Simpson-Mazzoli bill is a comprehensive measure designed to curb the flow of illegal immigrants by imposing sanctions on employers who hire them. It would also grant an amnesty to some of those who came to this country without authorization but who have been here for some time and put down roots in the United States.

Both elements of this bill drew fire. Some liberals opposed employer sanctions, and some conservatives fought the amnesty. Those who voted against final passage were from both ends of the political spectrum and included Sens. Kennedy and Cranston and Sens. Helms and East. The broad middle, however, supported both parts of the compromise, and the bill was passed on a 76-18 vote.

Senate debate on the measure was lively--20 amendments were considered--but never acrimonious. Veteran Congress-watchers give great credit to the co-author and Senate manager of the bill, Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who worked for two years to compromise and to build consensus on this important legislation. Even those colleagues who opposed the bill down to the wire praised his patience, diligence and fairness in shepherding the legislation to final passage.

Now the action moves to the House side. The Judiciary Committee has already reported a modified version of Simpson-Mazzoli, but four other committees wanted a chance to look at it. The Education and Labor, Ways and Means, Agriculture and Commerce committees have until June 27 to file further comments, and House consideration is expected to begin right after the Fourth of July recess.

The sooner the better--for in a session clogged with economic and budget matters that often seem abstract, this bill deals with highly charged personal issues such as family reunification, political asylum and competition for jobs. They are best considered before the rush to adjournment and the partisan pressures of an election year.