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With the current crisis at the southern border I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit the subject, through a newsletter that I wrote some time ago:

Most people do not remember that we “solved” the illegal immigration problem once and for all in 1986. The 1986 law was a product of more than five years’ work by Senator Alan K. Simpson, Republican of Wyoming, and Representative Romano L. Mazzoli, Democrat of Kentucky. Both left Congress years ago. There were an estimated 3 million to 5 million people in the country illegally at the time.

Congress passed the law, Pub.L. 99-603; 100 Stat. 3359, to solve the problem. It had two parts. There was the “amnesty” part. Anyone in the country illegally, continually since 1982 could get a “temporary legal status” (they didn’t like the term “amnesty” then either) by paying a $185 fee and showing “good moral character.” They could get green cards after 18 months if they learned English.

Then there was the enforcement part. The bill provided for improved surveillance technology and more staff for border enforcement. There were also penalties against businesses that hired people in the country illegally. However, business had to “knowingly” hire the illegal alien to be liable, creating a huge loophole, and as you know there has been little enforcement of this provision.

I think it is interesting to see what several Senators said after some time went by after the law was passed:

Our Senator Charles Grassley said he regretted voting for the 1986 measure.

“I thought then that taking care of three million people illegally in the country would solve the problem once and for all,” Senator Grassley said. “I found out, however, if you reward illegality, you get more of it. Today, as everybody has generally agreed, we have 12 million people here illegally.”

Most estimates now are that we have many more than that.  Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, said: “I was here in Congress in 1986. I heard all the promises of the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. None of them were true, and three million people got amnesty. There was no border security to speak of, no employer sanctions to speak of, and there was no enforcement.”

Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said: “The American people were sold a bill of goods. It didn’t work. We got an amnesty, and we got no enforcement. That is why people are so distrustful now.”

The E-verify law was passed later, but unfortunately it is not mandatory. If we were to pass another “comprehensive” bill as some are advocating, I fear we will again get legalization and maybe citizenship, with little effort to enforce any penalty provisions. We will then encourage millions more to come illegally, hoping for another amnesty law in the future. It is indeed frustrating to hear the same arguments that were used to pass the 1986 bill supporting a similar bill now. You would think we would have learned our lesson.

Unfortunately, probably the current administration has learned the lesson very well, and a never-ending stream of people coming across the border is what they want. Iowa cannot do much to slow the crossings, but one thing we could do is to pass a mandatory E-Verify law that would turn off the magnet of jobs for the people coming to Iowa illegally.

Author: Julian Garrett