05 August 2010
Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
Snappy title, huh?
I am going to finish the discussion of immigration reform for a couple of reasons. First, I am stubborn. Second, while for the time being this discussion appears to be a yawner, the information here will be useful for a full and complete enjoyment of the comic political theater next year when immigration reform is taken up.
We are skipping by the problems involved with temporary seasonal agricultural workers and border enforcement because those problems are straightforward if the real problem is addressed. What is to be done with the untold numbers of Mexicans who are now in the United States with their families on a permanent basis and who went there without proper documentation, that is, illegally? This brings up the hot issue of “amnesty.” Because it is hot, our President prefers to use the phrase “getting right with the law.”
Many people who lean the same way politically as I used to lean when I was political propose a mechanism whereby undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for a certain number of years can apply to legalize their status and get on the road to citizenship. Readers who lean the other way simply want them deported.
Any discussion of this, in my view, must begin with a look at the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 passed under President Ronald Reagan. With regard to the issue we are looking at, this law provided an amnesty—purportedly one time only—for immigrants in the United States illegally since before 1982 as long as they undertook certain steps such as, among other things, registering for the draft and learning English. Some two million took advantage of this amnesty program. Illegal immigration dropped for a time and then took off again for the following reason.
The Act was also designed to shut down the job market for illegal immigrants in order to stem the flow in the future. For the first time sanctions were imposed on employers in the United States who hired illegal immigrants. Also, employers were required to verify the immigration status of their new hires by requiring documentation of that status from the prospective employees and filling out a Form I-9 for each new employee reflecting that this had been done.
Here was the rub though. A great many employers in the United States need and want to hire cheap, unskilled labor and really do not care about the immigration status of the people who supply that cheap, unskilled labor. The upshot was that the lobbying effort on behalf of employers successfully watered down the provisions of the Act designed to shut down employment of illegal aliens in the United States.
For example, the requirement that the employer verify the authenticity of documents presented by prospective employees concerning their immigration status were removed from the Act before passage. The practical result of this was that a prospective employee could waive a forged document that he had purchased for ten bucks in front of the employer and be hired without fear on the employer's part.
Another important glitch ultimately built into the Act was that an employer was not required to verify the status of workers for a subcontractor hired by that employer. A subcontractor's employees are not the contractor's employees. Employers could safely hire a fly-by-night subcontractor with a phalanx of undocumented workers on the subcontractor's payroll.
Thanks to the lobbying effort on behalf of the employers that removed the teeth from these and other new requirements of the employers, the job market for illegal immigrants was not shut down. The fix was in.
To be fair, let us give space to the employers' main argument. They argued that they should not be made proxy enforcers of the nation's immigration laws. That is the government's job. There it is. That was their main argument.
This illustrates for me why employers in the United States bear every bit as much responsibility for the illegal immigration problem—perhaps more responsibility—than the illegal immigrants themselves. If there is no job market for illegal aliens up north, they will not go north. If there is a job market for illegal aliens up north, then they will go north. No fence is going to stop them. I cannot say that I blame them. There seems to be a mental block on the part of the vast majority of citizen-consumers of the United States that prevents them from recognizing that fact. Citizen-consumers up north are simply inclined to scream about these immigrants, "They broke the law! They broke the law!"
I do not hate President George W. Bush anymore. Here is how I regard President George W. Bush now that I have mellowed out in Mexico for awhile. President George W. Bush was no more stubbornly ignorant than the citizen-consumers of the United States who elected him. President George W. Bush had the same low level of decision-making skills as the citizen-consumers of the United States who elected him. In other words, President George W. Bush was a walking, talking example of Plato's fears of democracy set out in The Republic. President George W. Bush is not to be detested simply because he did not rise above the level of the electorate who put him in office. Those citizen-consumers won and got exactly what they had asked for.
Having said that, President George W. Bush did attempt to implement immigration reform again in 2006 and was blocked from doing so by his own party. Edwin Meese, the Attorney General for President Reagan at the time of passage of The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, wrote a relatively thoughtful opinion piece that appeared in 2006 in the New York Times looking back at the 1986 Act and its failures in the context of the George W. Bush initiative. (Jesus, I never thought that I would cite that guy with any approval. The passage of years does wondrous things.)
For a nice analysis of the 1986 Act by Daniel Gonzalez of The Arizona Republic, albeit riddled with typos, along with a brief interview at the end of Senator Alan Simpson, its Republican sponsor, see this site. Also, there is an informative article here regarding the impact of the Act from the Latino point of view.
My point is that a good start on the project of immigration reform next year would be to undertake a dispassionate look at the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and its failures. However, that will not happen. It will not happen because there is no such thing as “dispassionate” when it comes to this subject. Republican former Senator Alan Simpson said it. This issue arouses "emotion, fear, guilt, and racism." This issue is not a discrete problem that the United States of American can approach rationally with a view toward solving it. Emotion, fear, guilt, and racism are precisely why the show is going to be so entertaining next year.