Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Immigration Reform

By Nicholas Laham | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Ronald Reagan and the Failure of Immigration Policy

The Immigration and Control Act of 1986 was debated and finally passed, but as those in that battle well understood at the time, its efforts to curtail illegal immigration . . . were bound to fail. And they have. 1

-- Peter Skerry, political scientist

On November 6, 1986, Reagan signed IRCA at a ceremony held in the Roosevelt Room. In his remarks delivered before he signed IRCA, Reagan argued that

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, that I will sign in a few minutes, is the most comprehensive reform of our immigration laws since 1952. It's the product of one of the longest and most difficult undertakings of the last three Congresses. Further, it's an excellent example of a truly successful bipartisan effort. The administration and the allies of immigration reform on both sides of the Capitol and both sides of the aisle worked together to accomplish these critically important reforms to control illegal immigration. . . .

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. 2

As we saw in Chapter 2, nearly three-quarters of all illegal aliens who reside in the United States were born in Latin America, with over half having immigrated from Mexico alone. As a result, the Reagan administration was concerned that the employer-sanctions provisions of IRCA, designed to deprive illegal aliens of jobs, might be construed as targeting Latin Americans, especially those born in Mexico, for punishment, given the fact that citizens born in this region represent an overwhelming share of the undocumented population.

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