When immigration reform was a bipartisan issue
The Heritage Foundation has a new project called Failed Liberal Ideas. At least, the website’s heading includes “The Heritage Foundation” – it seems a little shoddy, even for them. One of those ideas is “‘comprehensive’ immigration reform”:
They’re touting their Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011 as the complete and real solution to America’s immigration problems. Hoping Americans will ignore history, though, liberals’ current manipulation is as catastrophically irresponsible as the amnesty law Congress adopted in 1986, which more than quadrupled the population of people here illegally.
Doing the same thing and expecting a different result: That’s not going to get us anywhere.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was not exactly a liberal venture. It was introduced in the Senate by Republican Alan Simpson. It was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. The law’s ideas came from a bipartisan commission (the Commission on Immigration Reform). The Republican Party had a Senate majority in the 99th Congress. I am not sure the authors meant to call Ronald Reagan catastrophically irresponsible.
Simpson and Romano Mazzoli (the Democratic sponsor in the House) defended the law 20 years later in a Washington Post article:
Since illegal immigration continues nearly unabated today, legitimate questions can be raised about the effectiveness of IRCA. Although we do have pride of authorship, we also believe that the shortcomings of the act are not due to design failure but rather to the failure of both Democratic and Republican administrations since 1986 to execute the law properly.
Not surprisingly, 20 years after the enactment of Simpson-Mazzoli, the Senate has passed an immigration reform bill composed of three main elements that are modified versions of the three legs of our bill: border security and workplace enforcement, a temporary worker program and legalization.
Would the Senate, knowing IRCA’s track record, have settled upon our basic framework for its 2006 bill if IRCA was fatally flawed? We doubt it. From 1981, when our bill was introduced, to 1986, when it became law, we were aided by the expertise of hundreds of policy experts, scholars and advocates. Our comprehensive bill was crafted to curtail illegal immigration, to provide personnel for labor-scarce markets and to give the most worthy of our illegal population a chance to earn legal status.
The foundation of IRCA was enforcement and border security, but to work, it required consistent funding: for agents to investigate workplace violations, for prosecution of employers who broke the law, for more Border Patrol agents, and for installing the latest in high-tech monitoring and surveillance equipment. We saw the need for funding to develop a simple, reliable and tamper-proof system, a “more secure identifier,” using cards or biometrics. Opponents from the right and the left savaged it as “a National ID,” although it was not something that had to be carried on one-s person but was to be presented only at the time of “new hire” employment or when applying for government benefits.
After two decades, the system is still not in place. Unfortunately, what is in place is the use of several different identifiers, which were meant to be temporary, and a flourishing underground economy engaged in creating fraudulent documents for illegal immigrants.
All administrations since 1986 have allocated funding and personnel resources more generously to the task of securing the border than to enforcing IRCA in the workplace. Why? One answer is that there are never enough federal budget resources. Another is that administrations of both stripes are loathe to disrupt economic activities – i.e. labor supply in factories, farms and businesses. And we know that disruptions in the labor supply are the natural, unavoidable and even desirable consequence of strong border and workplace enforcement.
We believe that our three-legged-stool approach is still relevant and workable if carried out vigorously. We commend the Senate, which, in a worthy bipartisan effort, adopted such a framework this spring. The House bill is basically a tough “enforcement-only” measure.
We earnestly hope that before this Congress adjourns, the House and Senate will compromise, wring out the raw partisanship, and find a way to send President Bush – who has staked so much on enactment of solid immigration reform – a measure structured along the lines of our original bill. There is still time.