Reagan Legacy: Amnesty For Illegal Immigrants
As the nation's attention turns back to the fractured debate over immigration, it might be helpful to remember that in 1986, Ronald Reagan signed a sweeping immigration reform bill into law. It was sold as a crackdown: There would be tighter security at the Mexican border, and employers would face strict penalties for hiring undocumented workers.
But the bill also made any immigrant who'd entered the country before 1982 eligible for amnesty — a word not usually associated with the father of modern conservatism.
In his renewed push for an immigration overhaul this week, President Obama called for Republican support for a bill to address the growing population of illegal immigrants in the country. This time, however, Republicans know better than to tread near the politically toxic A-word.
Part of this aversion is due to what is widely seen as the failure of Reagan's 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. However, one of the lead authors of the bill says that unlike most immigration reform efforts of the past 20 years, amnesty wasn't the pitfall.
"We used the word 'legalization,' " former Wyoming Sen. Alan K. Simpson tells NPR's Guy Raz. "And everybody fell asleep lightly for a while, and we were able to do legalization."
The law granted amnesty to nearly 3 million illegal immigrants, yet was largely considered unsuccessful because the strict sanctions on employers were stripped out of the bill for passage.
Simpson says the amnesty provision actually saved the act from being a total loss. "It's not perfect, but 2.9 million people came forward. If you can bring one person out of an exploited relationship, that's good enough for me."