Accuracy in Media

Because Congress and the president are getting set to revamp immigration law, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) undertook a task few academics or policymakers have. The CIS looked at what happened the last time that the executive and legislative branches got together to relax border controls.

The study, done by researcher David North, had some interesting findings. In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) not only had bipartisan support in the Senate and House, but was strongly advocated by President Reagan and Attorney General Ed Meese. The end result was a new statute that changed the immigration legalization process while granting amnesty to select immigrants.

Billed as the solution to the wide variety of immigration issues facing the United States, the bill had some unanticipated side effects. Key elements of the bill included language that favored farm workers by allowing them an intermediate form of legalization during the growing season when their labor was most required. In addition, the bill also required business owners and employers to verify the legal status of all employees who were hired and employed punitive sanctions if this was not done. Finally, the basic function of the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) was changed from law enforcement to benefit distribution.

North found that nearly a quarter of all immigrants granted legal status received it via fraud. While several individual INS offices took independent steps to prevent fraudulent claims, there was no standard, unified procedure that effectively prevented fraud. He also notes that due to the lack of foresight, there were many opportunities to administer basic vaccinations during the medical exams. While this oversight has been corrected in recent years, there are still a great many people who would have profited greatly from this preventative measure.

Under IRCA, employers could hire subcontractors without certifying the legal status of their employees. Moreover, while some of the changes IRCA brought about allowed INS workers who worked on a face to face basis with the applicants to escape the unpleasant tasks of informing applicants of bad news, it also eliminated the agency’s first barrier to inappropriate applications.

One by-product of this decision was that it made it easier for officials to simply approve questionable applicants rather than begin an arduous paperwork trail to deny someone’s application. Prior to the IRCA legislation, applicants had the ability and opportunity to withdraw their applications should it appear that they were ineligible for citizenship. Without this precaution, many questionable applicants were allowed to either be granted citizenship or waste time in the system.

North recommends against another legalization program primarily because, like the bailout of the banks, it is an expensive piece of legislation that only benefits a small segment of the nation while the remainder of the taxpayers must pay the exorbitant costs.

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