1986 Law Was Supposed to Secure the Border, So, What Happened??

“Do you know who else supported amnesty for illegal immigrants? Ronald Reagan, that liberal lion.”

The above comment was recently posted to our Facebook page (since removed by the poster) by an open border advocate in Texas. The commenter was correct, Reagan did support and sign the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, but, being the strong advocate for the rule of law that he was, it is debatable whether he would repeat that same mistake today (see Reagan Would Not Repeat Amnesty Mistake).

We hear a lot of references to Reagan these days. Whether it is on budget and debt ceiling debates, or amnesty for illegal aliens, Democratic politicians and operatives have taken to trying to embarrass those who oppose tax increases or amnesty by claiming that Reagan was more in line with their agenda than with today’s conservative movement. The truth is that Reagan agreed to the 1986 IRCA amnesty because politicians from both sides of the aisle (some representing business interests, others representing immigrants’ rights) made promises of a tightly secured border, stronger internal enforcement system, and no more amnesties in exchange for the legalization of nearly three million illegal aliens. Well, 13 million illegal aliens later, you can see how well this worked out.

Regardless of the failure of the enforcement component of the Act, open border advocates and Latino special interests groups incessantly accuse those who seek to reduce immigration by enforcing our immigration laws and opposing another amnesty of being restrictionists on a good day, and plain ole racists on most days. Most reasonable people want to see a secure border and better enforcement of immigration laws, not amnesty.

We keep hearing arguments that our “broken immigration system” needs to be fixed, but this rhetoric comes from the same groups who oppose setting reasonable limits on immigration and any meaningful enforcement. Ultimately, ethnic and cheap labor interests that agreed to stronger enforcement against illegal immigration in 1986 have since then worked to undermine achievement of these commitments and are largely responsible for the mess we find ourselves in today.

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Content written by Federation for American Immigration Reform staff.

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