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This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee cast a near-unanimous vote against an amendment from Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to unduly restrict future legal immigration into the country over the next decade. Sessions was the only Senator to vote for his amendment, which he claimed would stop “chain migration” and prevent immigrants from “taking American jobs.” Why did his amendment garner such sweeping opposition? Because the vast majority of Senators in both parties recognize that we can either facilitate immigration through reasonable legal channels, or continue to experience unauthorized migration.
In fact, this is the key lesson learned from prior attempts at immigration reform, and one of the core differences between the components of the 1986 law signed by President Reagan and the bipartisan bill under consideration in the Senate today.
Following is a statement from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
The Senate Gang of Eight’s immigration bill learns from and corrects the mistakes of the 1986 Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA). Yet the opponents of the current immigration reform bill being marked up in the Senate Judiciary Committee, such as Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), often cite IRCA as the reason for their opposition. They say that the promise of border enforcement was not fulfilled, that the employment verification system didn’t work and that the legalization program incentivized future illegal immigration. Therefore, they argue, we should not proceed with a proposal that they claim leads with legalization and promises enforcement later.
Here’s why they are wrong.
The 1986 IRCA law contained a legalization program for approximately 3 million undocumented immigrants – half of the nation’s undocumented population – combined with employer sanctions and border security. While opponents like to say the bill was a failure, the record is more mixed. It was not a failure for the 3 million undocumented immigrants who got on a path to citizenship. Most used their newfound freedom and mobility to make significant contributions to the nation they call home. As for the employer sanctions provisions, the law required that new hires show proof of legal status and identity to employers, a provision that was undermined by the widespread availability of false documents. With respect to border security, the George H.W. Bush Administration did not significantly increase the border patrol. Instead, the present-day ramp up began with the Administration of President Bill Clinton in 1993 and has continued to the present day. Since 1993, the border patrol has grown from 2,000 agents to 21,000. According to the Migration Policy Institute, we spend more on immigration enforcement today than on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined.
Why did the dramatic increase in border patrol agents coincide with a dramatic increase in the undocumented population (rising from 3 million to 11 million)? Because IRCA did not do what the bipartisan Senate bill does in three essential ways.
This is the combination that will work together to solve the broken immigration system: border enforcement combined with mandatory employment verification combined with a path to citizenship for undocumented workers combined with legal channels for workers in the future. Those who claim that the answer is “border security first” or “border security only” neglect the fact that this has been our nation’s de facto immigration strategy for 25 years – and it has failed. It failed because it didn’t combine core elements in a way that creates a legal, orderly and safe immigration process that serves America’s interests and reflects American values.
One thing the 1986 immigration law did get right, however, was the spirit behind it. In his farewell address to the nation President Ronald Reagan, who signed IRCA into law, described his vision of America as a “shining city upon a hill” and said, “if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.”
This time, Congress is poised to enact a complete solution that addresses the policy challenge while staying true to our nation’s values and character. That’s why 2013 is different from 1986.
RESOURCES ON THE BIPARTISAN SENATE BILL