November 1986: Comments on 'Comprehensive Immigration Reform'

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on November 14, 2011

Twenty-five years ago, the reviews were coming in about the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which President Reagan signed into law on November 7, 1986. IRCA offered amnesty to illegal immigrants who had either lived in the United States since January 1, 1982, or had done at least 90 days of agricultural work within a 12-month period ending May 1, 1986. The amnesty was part of a compromise, the other side of which was sanctions against employers who knowingly hired illegals. Repeat offenders would be subject to fines from $3,000 to $10,000 for each illegal immigrant they hired, while those who engaged in a "pattern or practice" of illegal hiring would face up to six months in prison. President Reagan said the law ''will remove the incentive for illegal immigration by eliminating the job opportunities which draw illegal aliens here."

Here are some comments on the legislation, beginning with more from Reagan's statement at the White House signing ceremony.

PRESIDENT REAGAN: "Our objective is only to establish a reasonable, fair and orderly and secure system of immigration into this country and not to discriminate in any way against particular nations or people." Calling the measure "an excellent example of a truly successful bipartisan effort," Reagan said, "Future generations of Americans will be thankful for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people – American citizenship."

NEW YORK REP. (NOW SEN.) CHARLES E. SCHUMER, A PRINCIPAL ARCHITECT OF IRCA: ''The bill is a gamble, a riverboat gamble. There is no guarantee that employer sanctions will work or that amnesty will work. We are headed into uncharted waters.'' Reporting Schumer's comments, the New York Times added, "Mr. Schumer and others said the current situation was unacceptable. The Government caught 1.8 million illegal aliens in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, an increase of about 30 percent from the previous year."

WASHINGTON POST: "At a time when a counterfeit alien registration 'green card' and matching Social Security card can be purchased for as little as $40, at a time when there may be more than 10,000 illegal immigrants for every available federal immigration agent, it is unlikely that employers … will ever have to choose between keeping their workers or obeying the law." The Post quoted an employer saying, "I always said we could live with this as long as the burden of proof was on the government and not on us." Added the Post: "Under the new law, employers will be required to file copies of their employees' registration cards, but it will be up to the INS to inspect them. With 45 agents assigned to the seven-county area surrounding Los Angeles, down from 130 in 1979, few experts expect such investigations to be very frequent unless Congress provides more agents."

JORGE CASTANEDA, MEXICAN POLITICAL SCIENTIST: "In reality, those flows [of illegal immigrants] cannot be easily toyed with, and the legislation will not be effective – although it may take time for this to become evident. [Im]migration from Mexico has increased in the past few years and will continue to do so in the near and medium-term future. The reason is simple: the continued strong demand for low-wage, unskilled labor in the United States and the remaining large supply of young, unemployed Mexicans willing to satisfy that demand."