Immigration Legislation

Rep. Peter W. Rodino's (D-N.J.) article (Editorial Pages, July 5), "Immigration Needs the President's Clout," expresses persuasively the need to reform U.S. immigration policy.

It is a moral outrage that illegal immigration continues unabated. As Rodino points out, the results of this population flow include the creation of an underclass and unfair competition for American workers.

At one time, illegal immigrants worked almost exclusively in low-paying jobs. Today, they are working in the building and construction trades across the Southwest, in the meatpacking industry of the Midwest, and in the forestry industry of the Northwest, often displacing middle-income Americans. If Rodino's tack were followed, the problem would grow larger.

Although Rodino believes that illegal immigration to this country is an important problem that needs to be addressed, he deflates his eloquent case when he insists that Congress should not move on immigration legislation unless the President "shows the type of leadership (he has) shown with his tax simplification plan."

Rodino is right to call for active support from President Reagan who has yet to mention immigration reform in public this year. But leadership on immigration legislation has originated historically in Congress, not in the executive branch.

There is a national consensus for tougher immigration laws. The popular sentiment for change may be seen in a 1980 Roper Poll in which 91% of the respondents wanted the U.S. government to halt the flow of illegal aliens to this country. In addition, a recent National Federation of Independent Business poll revealed that 68% of the respondents favor employer penalties against those who hire illegal aliens.

Contrary to Rodino's assertion that there is "no real organized voice . . . to express the national need for reform," our organization, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, has been in the forefront of the immigration debate for the past six years and will continue to articulate the public will on this issue.

As a body elected by the American people, Congress should serve its constituency by passing immigration reform legislation immediately rather than wait for the President to rally public support for it. Although his endorsement would be welcome, its absence is no excuse for delay. If an immigration reform bill passes the House and Senate, the President would feel enormous political pressure to sign it into law.

In a sense, the issue of immigration reform is a test of whether the 99th Congress has the fortitude to act decisively on its own or whether it merely reacts to pressure from the executive branch. Rodino calls for leadership from the President. That demand will carry more weight when it comes from members of Congress who are exercising leadership.


Washington, D.C.

Conner is executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

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