Do the Reid-Kennedy Bill's Amnesty Provisions Repeat the Mistakes of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986?

By Michael W. Cutler on September 1, 2006

Statement of
Michael W. Cutler
Center for Immigration Studies

Before the House Judiciary Committee

Chairmen Sensenbrenner and Hostettler, Ranking Members Conyers and Jackson Lee, members of Congress, distinguished members of the panel, ladies and gentlemen. It is a distinct honor and privilege to provide testimony at this hearing because the topic of the hearing is of truly critical significance. We are here to avert what I believe would be a catastrophe for the United States. The United States Senate passed a bill, S. 2611, that would provide incentives for a massive influx of illegal aliens, aided, abetted and induced to violate our nation's immigration laws at a time that our nation is confronting the continuing threat of terrorism and the increasing involvement of violent gangs, comprised predominantly of deportable aliens, in a wide variety of violent crimes committed against our nation's citizens. It is of critical importance that this hearing and others like it, illuminate why S. 2611 would expose our nation to unreasonable vulnerabilities especially in the post-9/11 world.

As a former senior special agent of the INS I had ample opportunities to observe, up close and in person, the failings of the former INS to control the borders of the United States and create a system that deterred violations of the immigration laws of our nation. I believe that it is important that our legislative bodies reach out to law enforcement professionals when they contemplate enacting legislation that would have a significant impact on the criminal justice system. Simply enacting legislation will not guarantee that the desired goals of the legislation will or can be met. It is therefore important for Congress to consider the experience and insight of members of the law enforcement agencies that would ultimately enforce the laws that are enacted by these legislative bodies. While I will not claim to have all of the answers, I believe that my having spent some 30 years with the former INS in a variety of positions provides me with a unique perspective that I am happy to share with you today.

A nation's primary responsibility is to provide for the safety and security of its citizens and yet, for reasons I cannot begin to fathom, the members of the Senate who voted for S. 2611 are seemingly oblivious to the lessons that the disastrous amnesty of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) should have taught us. That piece of legislation lead to the greatest influx of illegal aliens in the history of our nation. Fraud and a lack of integrity of the immigration system not only flooded our nation with illegal aliens who ran our borders, hoping that what had been billed as a one time amnesty would be repeated, but it also enabled a number of terrorists and many criminals to enter the United States and then embed themselves in the United States.

A notable example of such a terrorist can be found in a review of the facts concerning Mahmud Abouhalima, a citizen of Egypt who entered the United States on a tourist visa, overstayed his authorized period of admission and then applied for amnesty under the agricultural worker provisions of IRCA. He succeeded in obtaining resident alien status through this process. During a 5 year period he drove a cab and had his license suspended numerous times for violations of law and ultimately demonstrated his appreciation for our nation's generosity by participating in the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 that left 6 people dead, hundreds of people injured and an estimated one half billion dollars in damage inflicted, on that iconic, ill-fated complex. America had opened its doors to him so that he might participate in the American Dream. He turned that dream into our worst nightmare. The other terrorists who attacked our nation on subsequent attacks, including the attacks of September 11, 2001, similarly exploited our generosity, seeing in our nation's kindness, weakness, gaming the immigration system to enter our country and then, hide in plain sight, among us.

As I recall, when IRCA was proposed, one of the selling points was that along with amnesty for what was believed to have been a population of some 1.5 million illegal aliens would be a new approach to turn off what has been described as the magnet that draws the majority of illegal aliens into the United States in the first place, the prospect of securing employment in the United States. In order to accomplish this important goal, IRCA imposed penalties against those unscrupulous employers who knowingly hired illegal aliens. My former colleagues and I were pleased to see that under the employer sanctions of IRCA, the unscrupulous employers of illegal aliens would be made accountable, or so we thought. We were frustrated that we had seen all too many employers hire illegal aliens and treat them horrendously They paid them sub-standard wages and created unsafe, indeed hazardous working conditions for the illegal aliens they hired, knowing full well that these aliens would not complain because they feared being reported to the INS. Meanwhile the employer would not face any penalty for his outrageous conduct. Finally, it seemed that the employer sanctions provisions of IRCA would discourage employers from hiring illegal aliens and would also make it less likely they would treat their employees as miserably as some of these employers did.

Of course, we now know that the relative handful of special agents who were assigned to conduct investigations of employers who hired illegal aliens made it unlikely that employers would face a significant risk of being caught violating these laws and that they would face an even smaller chance of being seriously fined. Furthermore, the way that the amnesty provisions of the law were enacted simply created a cottage industry of fraud document vendors who provided illegal aliens with counterfeit or altered identity documents and supporting documents to enable the illegal alien population to circumvent the immigration laws. Ultimately approximately 3.5 million illegal aliens emerged from the infamous shadows to participate in the amnesty program of 1986. I have never seen an explanation for the reason that more than twice as many aliens took advantage of the 1986 amnesty than was initially believed would but I believe that two factors came into play. It may well be that the number of illegal aliens in the country was underestimated. I also believe, however, that a large number of illegal aliens were able to gain entry into the United States long after the cutoff point and succeeded in making false claims that they had been present in the country for the requisite period of time.

To put this in perspective, I have read various estimates about the number of illegal aliens who are currently present in the United States. These estimates range from a low of 12 million to a high of 20 million. If, for argument sake, we figure on a number of 15 million illegal aliens, or ten times the number that had been estimated prior to the amnesty of 1986, and if the same sort of under counting occurs and if a comparable percentage of aliens succeed in racing into the United States and making a false claims that they had been here for the necessary period of time to be eligible to participate in the amnesty program that the Reid-Kennedy provisions would reward illegal aliens with, then we might expect some 35 million illegal aliens will ultimately participate in this insane program. Once they become citizens they would then be eligible to file applications to bring their family members to the United States, flooding our nation with tens of millions of additional new lawful immigrations while our nation's porous borders, visa waiver program and extreme lack of resources to enforce the immigration laws from within the interior of the United States would allow many millions of illegal aliens to continue to enter the United States in violation of law.

The utterly inept and incompetent USCIS, which is now unable to carry out it's most basic missions with even a modicum of integrity would undoubtedly disintegrate. The system would simply implode, crushed by the burden of its vicious cycle of attempting to deal with an ever increasing spiral of rampant fraud thereby encouraging still more fraudulent applications to be filed. Terrorists would not find gaming this system the least bit challenging and our government will have become their unwitting ally, providing them with official identity documents in false names and then, ultimately, providing them with the keys to the kingdom by conferring resident aliens status and then, United States citizenship upon those who would destroy our nation and slaughter our citizens.

I hope that this doomsday scenario will not be permitted to play out.

Insanity has been described as doing the same things the same way and expecting a different result. Where our nation's security is concerned it would be indeed, insane to ignore the lessons of IRCA.

When I was a boy my dad used to tell me that there were no mistakes in life, only lessons, provided we learn from what goes wrong and make the appropriate changes in the way we do things. However, to repeat the same mistakes was to him and to me, simply unforgivable.

Chairmen Sensenbrenner and Hostettler, I commend your leadership in calling this hearing to make certain that these concerns are made public and are taken into account, especially as we approach the anniversary of the fifth anniversary of the attacks of September 11 and our nation continues to grapple with the immigration crisis.

America is at historic crossroads at this moment in time. Courageous decisions need to be made by our nation's leaders. If our nation fails to select the proper path, there will be no going back. If our nation decides to provide amnesty to millions of undocumented and illegal aliens, I fear that our national security will suffer irreparable harm as we aid and abet alien terrorists who seek to enter our country and embed themselves within it in preparation for the deadly attacks they would carry out. The priority must be clear, national security must be given the highest consideration and priority where the security of our nation's borders and the integrity of the immigration system are concerned.

I look forward to your questions.