Friday, July 24, 2020

How America Failed to Control Illegal Immigration

Carlos Barria/Reuters
A new book tells an important story.
The basic narrative of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 is simple and well-known: Conservatives and liberals compromised, trading an illegal-immigrant amnesty for better enforcement going forward. The amnesty happened; the enforcement did not. The experience has haunted the Right ever since, making further compromises in the same vein incredibly difficult.
Often lost, though, is the story of exactly how the law failed and why it wasn’t fixed. Losing Control: How a Left-Right Coalition Blocked Immigration Reform and Provoked the Backlash That Elected Trump, the new book from Jerry Kammer of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), fills that gap. It explains decades’ worth of developments in the politics and policy of illegal immigration, from the funding of think tanks to the coverage of major newspapers to polls of the general public to votes in Congress. Over all this, the botched 1986 law casts a dark shadow.
The overarching message here is that even as the public clamored for better immigration enforcement, the government was never really serious about it. Presidents occasionally stepped up activity to get good headlines, especially at the border, but neither the executive nor the legislature ever truly had the guts to punish businesses that hired illegal immigrants — the most promising way of actually addressing the problem. Thus the 1986 law was toothless from the beginning, rarely enforced even as well as it could have been, and never fixed with subsequent legislation.
Kammer himself, the resident liberal at the restrictionist CIS, is open to another amnesty-for-enforcement deal, so long as the enforcement promises are credible this time. Reading his own book, one wonders how that could ever possibly come to pass.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) came on the tail end of exhausting, years-long deliberations. Both sides concluded it was the best they could get, even as conservatives chafed at amnesty and liberals resisted a new set of enforcement mechanisms.
On the legalization side, Kammer writes, amnesty was granted not only to “illegal immigrants who had been in the country for five years but also to farm workers who had picked crops for a mere 90 days.” On top of that, “when newly legalized workers left the fields to find work elsewhere, the growers would be able to hire ‘replenishment workers’ who — in another stroke of generosity — would also be put on a path to citizenship.”
Read the rest from Robert VerBruggen HERE.

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