The Reagan Administration, pushing for House action on its stalled immigration reform package, said Wednesday that the law is needed to help solve the biggest domestic problem of all--the war against illicit drugs.
Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, citing a surge in narcotics seizures along the U.S.-Mexican border, told a press conference: "Illegal immigration is contributing to the drug problem."
He warned that "we are running out of time" to obtain approval of the immigration package before Congress adjourns next month.
Aliens Seized With Drugs
Alan C. Nelson, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said that 28% of the 1,157 persons arrested for drug possession by the Border Patrol in the first half of fiscal 1986 were illegal aliens. Narcotics seizures by Border Patrol officers jumped to 1,023 during the first 10 months of the fiscal year from 885 in all of fiscal 1985, Nelson said.
However, a Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman estimated that less than 5% of the drugs entering the United States across its southern border are being carried by illegal aliens.
Meese, although stating that there is "not a one-to-one relationship" between illegal aliens and narcotics seizures, contended that passage of the immigration reform measure would help the fight against drugs.
By providing fines and possible jail terms for employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens, the measure should reduce the employment opportunities for aliens and thereby curb their numbers, he said. That would make it more difficult for drug smugglers to "get lost in the crowd" of those pouring across the border.
Urges Swift Action
When asked if the Administration was trying to tie the beleaguered immigration proposal to the "coattails" of the popular drug effort, Meese said: "We would not be doing this if there weren't a definite link between the problems." Meese said he has urged swift action on the bill in a recent letter to House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.).
The measure was approved in June by the House Judiciary Committee and is to be considered by the House Rules Committee next week. If the House passes the bill, a conference committee would have to iron out the differences with a measure passed by the Senate last year.
In the Rules Committee, the major problem is disagreement over an amendment by Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N. Y.), which would provide assurances that Western growers may continue to employ foreigners to pick crops.
Provision Called Unfair
Critics of the amendment complain that it contains a provision that unfairly allows those workers to obtain legal residence in the United States more easily than non-farm workers can.
Meese and Assistant Atty. Gen. John Bolton, head of the Justice Department's office of legislative affairs, contrasted the House's ability to enact a sweeping anti-drug measure in six weeks with the fact that some form of the immigration bill has been pending in the House for six years.
Bolton predicted that, if the House fails to act, "interest in pushing this rock up the hill one more time will disappear."