While debating the amnesty provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, then-Senator Alan Simpson (R–WY) stated on the floor of the Senate that “this is it. This is a generous Nation responding; instead of going hunting for you and going through the anguish of that in the cities and communities of America, this is it. It is one time.”
Twenty-seven years later and the verdict is in—Simpson and other amnesty proponents were flat out wrong, and amnesty only made illegal immigration into an even bigger problem.
Now the Senate is considering doing the same thing it did in 1986 by bringing forward another comprehensive immigration reform bill. The bill takes the same approach as the IRCA, but Senators are hoping that it will somehow turn out better this time. Contrary to their hopes, doing the same thing as the past will not result in a better outcome, but only encourage additional illegal immigration, mistreat those who followed the rules, and cost current citizens trillions in new costs.
In 1986, the IRCA provided millions of illegal immigrants with temporary legal status. After a year and a half, they could apply to become legal permanent residents (LPRs), and then citizens five years later. Indeed, nearly 2.7 million people eventually became LPRs under the bill.
Amnesty alone, however, would not have passed, so the authors of the bill added increased border security and stepped up the enforcement of existing immigration and labor laws. As a result, many in Congress justified their votes for amnesty because they believed they had strengthened security and enforcement that would prevent future streams of illegal immigration.
Of course, strengthening security and enforcement didn’t really happen. The executive branch didn’t enforce the new provisions well and the border remained porous. The IRCA called for amnesty, greater enforcement, and greater border security, but only amnesty and a new wave of illegal immigration actually occurred.
Flash forward to 2007. Despite the continuing failure of amnesty, Congress tried to pass another comprehensive immigration amnesty.
The 2007 bill would have given most illegal immigrants temporary status and then allowed them to become LPRs once those already in line for immigration visas had been granted visas. At the same time, the bill would also have given LPR status to the so-called “dreamers,” or those who were brought to the U.S. when they were under 16 years old, only three years after the bill passed.
Similar to the IRCA’s calls for increased enforcement and security measures, the 2007 bill would have required a border security “trigger,” or a requirement for security that had to be met before permanent legal status could be given.
Flash forward yet again to the present, and many of the ideas from the failed 2007 bill are now being carried forward into the current “Gang of Eight” legislation. Instead of new ideas, the current bill is essentially just recycling the flawed and failed ideas of the past.
The bill gives registered provisional immigrant (RPI) status—i.e., amnesty—to the vast majority of those here illegally. After 10 years, these RPIs can become LPRs and then citizens three years after that. The bill also has special provisions for dreamers, allowing for an adjustment to be made to an LPR after only five years. As with the 2007 bill, the current bill also has supposed border security triggers.
Clearly, these three pieces of legislation are incredibly similar—all three are amnesties at their core and reward those who broke U.S. laws with legal status; all three have called for additional security and enforcement; and all three have done and will do nothing to fix our broken immigration system.
The current bill does not curb the discretion given to the executive branch in enforcing U.S. law. Instead, it actually gives more discretion to the Secretary of Homeland Security. If the U.S. isn’t enforcing its laws and providing enough security now, what is stopping the executive branch from doing the same in the future?
It is said that insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Amnesty has only made illegal immigration worse, and if passed in this Congress, will do so again.