CONGRESS DID A GOOD THING LAST WEEK when it resurrected and passed an immigration bill. The legislation is not perfect, but it's a reasoned attempt to make sense out of this emotionally and intellectually difficult issue.

As a result of this bill, illegal immigrants who have lived in this country for at leastfive years, finding jobs, having children and making lives for themselves, would be granted legal status and the right to become citizens.Critics argued such a measure wouldn't be fair to others who waited for legal channels to open.

But legislators were right to ignore such small-minded criticism. The right to some sort of statute of limitations on just about any crime is so basic to our society.

The sadness when someone who has been here for awhile is deported merits consideration. This amnesty approach avoids the vindictive in a kind, sane manner.

At the same time, it avoids being overly soft. It prohibits, for five years, most federal financial aid, including welfare, for those newly legalized aliens.

Such newly legal aliens will be working for their living, as most illegals do. But once given legal status, they will be able to demand more equitable wages and reasonable work environments.

The bill will also beef up enforcement of immigration laws at the borders and would get tough with employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.

Companies that argued it would be impossible to enforce such a measure were talking nonsense. It will require merely that they check the identification of those people they hire.

And no, Congress has said, simply refusing to hire anyone with a Spanish or Korean or other ethnic surname will not do.

Such discrimination is explicitly noted as an unlawful way to approach the requirement.

A main focus of the 15-year battle over immigration legislation has been the farm community, which claims to need the labor of illegal aliens to harvest perishable fruits and vegetables.

The bill would allow illegal alien farm workers to become temporary legal residents if they have worked for certain minimal periods.

Those farm workers could become permanent residents and apply for citizenship after a certain waiting period.

The legislation, with its something-for-everyone approach, is a fine example of what Congress should be doing: Keeping its eye on the issues, avoiding ideological rhetoric and finding workable compromises.

Even with the bill, problems will remain in the area of immigration law.

The legislation does not address what to do about Nicaraguan and Salvadoran refugees who are being deported into life-threatening situations and civil wars. Despite this attempt to clean up the immigration mess, there still will be immigrants who will have to be turned away and employers who will discriminate against ethnic groups or go out of their way to hire new Americans they can mistreat.

But this bill will help a lot. It goes beyond a quick fix for the immigration crisis that many experts have been citing.

It alleviates the crisis in a sane, fair and mature way.

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