To the Editor:

James Goldsborough thinks U.S. immigration laws are too soft. But he neglects to mention the repressive 1996 legislation meant to provide the enforcement muscle for stopping illegal immigration. That legislation tore families apart by deporting long-time permanent residents for criminal offenses, many of which were minor and committed decades before they became deportable crimes. It ended judicial review of immigration decisions and discretionary relief based on years of good conduct or hardship to family members. And it implemented "summary exclusion," giving absolute and final authority to immigration inspectors to decide whom to admit and whom to turn away.

As for the 1965 Immigration Act, much reviled by Goldsborough, it neither doubled the annual number of immigrants nor had the "unintended consequences" of opening the "floodgates" to family immigration. Instead, the act ended the decades-old discriminatory policies that had favored immigrants from western Europe at the expense of those from southern and eastern Europe and to the almost total exclusion of Asian immigrants.

Goldsborough's warnings of an immigration crisis find little support in most serious studies conducted over the past five years. The National Academy of Sciences, for example, found that immigrants raise the total income of U.S.-born workers by at least $10 billion a year -- and this estimate is considered conservative. A 1997 RAND study found that although new immigrants are a fiscal burden to California, they are a fiscal benefit to other states. A 1996 Hoover Institution study concluded that immigrants are an important source of economic growth and revitalization for inner cities. And a 1998 study conducted by the Cato Institute and the National Immigration Forum found that states with high immigrant populations have historically outperformed those with low immigrant populations in both job creation and income growth.

U.S. immigration law and its administration do need reform, but not in the direction sketched by Goldsborough. The United States needs to increase, not decrease, the numbers of legal immigrants, reconfigure immigration categories, and vastly improve the delivery of immigration services. It must do a better job of fairly and justly enforcing the law. And it must not let cultural dislikes and hoary notions of immigration dictate its policies.


Lecturer in Law, Columbia Law School