Lessons from immigration reform in 1986

David North closely analyzed the 1986 reform effort – IRCA, or the Immigration Reform and Control Act, and found lessons for today. In his paper published at an immigration lawyer website, he lists six attributes of IRCA worth noting:
1. Large numbers—often much larger than anticipated—of aliens sought legalization and the overwhelming majority of applications were accepted.
2. The compromises leading to the passage of the legislation led to an extremely complex program, full of internal inconsistencies. [This is already evident in the guest worker and amnesty provisions proposed in 2006 – PFR]
3. There was a great deal of many different kinds of fraud in the program; much of the apparent fraud did not lead to the denial of applications.
4. The promised balance—of a large legalization program for currently illegal aliens joined with a strict enforcement program against the future arrival of illegal aliens—did not eventuate. Yes, there was much legalization, but there was little enforcement of the law forbidding the employment of the undocumented (employer sanctions). [It may well be that the law enforcement system in the U.S. is so poorly acculturated to personal identity enforcement (“big brother”) that it will always be messy – PFR]
5. Within the legalization process there was a built-in (if probably unconscious) bias toward Hispanics and away from other undocumented populations. [We will see a lot of Europeans and Asian computer specialists coming out of the woodwork – PFR]
6. Demographic considerations (are there too many of us?) and equity in the labor market (are we widening the disparity between rich and poor?) were largely overlooked. [These issues have of course been much more openly addressed, especially in the past few months. There is a lot of research on these issues, serving as a foundation for books and articles. – PFR]

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