The Immigration Reform and Control Act and the Challenge of Granting Amnesty
The main legalization provisions of IRCA were the product of considerable congressional conflict and last minute compromise. 1
-- Susan Gonzalez Baker, The Urban Institute
As we have seen, IRCA adopted a carrot-and-stick approach to immigration reform. The stick was employer sanctions designed to deter further illegal immigration by imposing federal civil and criminal penalties upon employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. The carrot was the granting of amnesty to illegal aliens residing in the United States who had demonstrated their potential to be productive, law-abiding citizens.
IRCA granted the right to obtain temporary legal residence to all illegal aliens who had lived continuously in the United States since prior to January 1, 1982, and could not be excluded from securing legal residence under federal immigration law for reasons other than their legal status. Illegal aliens would be allowed to obtain permanent legal residence eighteen months after being granted amnesty, provided they possessed both a minimal fluency in English and a basic knowlege of the government and history of the United States, or were enrolled in a course of instruction designed to enable them to attain such lingustic skills and civics education. The attorney general would be authorized to exempt any illegal alien age sixty-five or older from having to meet the linguistic skills and civics education requirements as a condition for being granted amnesty. IRCA also granted Cubans and Haitians who had entered the United States illegally prior to January 1, 1982 the right to obtain immediate permanent legal residence in the United States.
Illegal aliens granted amnesty, with the exception of Cuban and Haitian ref-