Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Illegal Border Crossings Show Upward Trend Four Years after Passing Immigration Reform, Lawmakers Consider Adjusting Its Provisions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Illegal Border Crossings Show Upward Trend Four Years after Passing Immigration Reform, Lawmakers Consider Adjusting Its Provisions

Article excerpt

THE challenge the United States faces in controlling illegal immigration across its southern border is evident along the dusty levees of the Tijuana River here.

In one section, amid the greasewood and Russian thistle, looms a chain-link fence reinforced with steel matting. A US Border Patrol agent leans against a truck on one side of the fence.

On the other side, 15 feet away, are several dozen Mexicans and Central Americans watching him. The moment the green-jacketed officer moves, even if only a few hundred yards away, the aliens scamper over the fence.

"It's a waiting game," says H. Randolph Williamson, a 20-year Border Patrol veteran, bouncing along the top of the levee in a four-wheel-drive truck. "Someone is stationed here 24 hours. If you pulled the person out, people would just pour through."

Four years after passage of a landmark law intended to control illegal immigration, the number of people slipping across the US-Mexican border is rising sharply.

Critics are seizing on the numbers to buttress their case that the "sanctions provisions" of the law, designed to slow illegal immigration, is not working and should be scrapped.

But supporters argue that the law is doing some good and needs only to be modified.

"The trend is continuing to go up," says Doris Meissner, a former top Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) official now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "I think you do have to conclude that the flow is about the same as it was before IRCA (the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986)."

Through the first 11 months of fiscal 1990, agents along the southern border arrested 955,000 people trying to enter the US illegally - up 25 percent from this time last year. At least one person is believed to get through for every one arrested.

INS officials expect the year-end total to be around 1.06 million, the highest since 1987. That is well below the record years of 1985 (1.3 million) and 1986 (1.6 million) just before the law was passed. But it represents a significant increase after a three-year decline.

Despite the surge, INS officials don't think the sanctions provision of the law, which was designed to curb the border crossings by penalizing employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, has been a failure. They argue that the numbers would be much higher without the law.

They blame much of the increase on the proliferation of forged documents that allow many undocumented workers to circumvent the statute. Under IRCA, employers are supposed to verify the status of new workers by demanding documents such as a resident alien's card or Social Security card. Employers are not, however, responsible for verifying their authenticity.

"We think the message has gotten back to sending nations: `Look, if you make it the US, you can get documentation to get work,"' says Duke Austin of the INS in Washington. …

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