Immigration Shift: Then and Now

The White House will halt the deportation of as many as 800,000 young illegal immigrants and in some cases give them work permits. People under 30 who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas when they were under the age of 16 will be immune from deportation if they have not committed a significant misdemeanor or felony and have graduated from a U.S. high school or joined the military.

They can apply for a renewable two-year work permit that won’t provide a path to citizenship but will allow them to work legally in the country. Applicants will have to prove they’ve lived in the country for five consecutive years.

The U.S. has been through this before and — yes — President Ronald Reagan got it wrong and admitted it. The Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 was a blanket amnesty for illegal aliens.

The act required employers to attest to their employees’ immigration status, made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit unauthorized immigrants, granted amnesty to certain seasonal agricultural illegal immigrants and granted amnesty to illegal immigrants who entered the United States before January 1, 1982 and had resided there continuously.  It introduced the I-9 form to ensure that all employees presented documentary proof of their legal eligibility to accept employment in the United States.

This law was supposed to be a compromise — an attempt to finally limit illegal immigration through strengthened border security and increased immigration enforcement against employers — combined with amnesty for the millions of illegal workers in the United States. President Ronald Reagan approved this “path to citizenship” amnesty due to what was believed to be a relatively small illegal immigrant population.

For the first six months after the amnesty there was a modest fall in illegal immigration, but within 12 months illegal immigration was breaking all previous records, rising to 800,000 per year. In fact, the 1986 amnesty resulted in more amnesties from 1994 to 2000, awarding legal status to another 3 million illegal immigrants.

By 1997, the number of illegal immigrants in the country was back up to the 5.0 million in the U.S. before the 1986 amnesty according to a report by the Center for Immigration Studies. The same 1997 report says the cost of amnesty for 2.7 million illegal immigrants had accumulated to $156.7 billion in 1986 dollars.

Breaking that cost down farther shows that  after $78.7 billion in tax collections  — it cost U.S. taxpayers $29,148 in 1986 dollars for each amnestied ‘immigrant’ . Furthermore, it displaced 1,872,000 American workers over the next 10-years.

Later, Reagan said of IRCA, “The amnesty was the worst mistake of my presidency.”

Today, about 12 million illegal aliens reside in the U. S. Most of those who violate our borders come from Mexico and other Latin American countries while about 6 percent of illegal immigrants come from Canada and Europe.

Finally, in 1986, about three million illegal immigrants were eligible for amnesty.  This time, roughly 9 million people are expected to be eligible for legalization — not the 800,000 being floated by the current administration.

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