Photo: Getty Images/Scott Olson
The recent bipartisan Senate proposal to reform the nation’s immigration system isn’t the first time a large comprehensive immigration reform package has been proposed in recent memory. The U.S. has had three major immigration packages over the past 30 years.Although it’s impossible to be completely accurate on estimates of the illegal-immigrant population, studies show a current population around 11 million. In 1980, this figure was estimated to be around 3 million.
Here’s a brief history of the most recent laws passed regarding immigration and how they fared:
The Immigration and Control Act of 1986
This law, signed by President Ronald Reagan, is very similar to proposals being floated by both President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of Senators. Items included:
- Requiring employers to attest to their employees’ immigration status.
- Making it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit unauthorised immigrants.
- Legalizing certain seasonal agricultural illegal immigrants.
- Illegal immigrants who entered the United States before January 1, 1982, and had resided there continuously were granted citizenship as long as they paid a fine, back taxes, and admitted guilt.
Here’s what happened, according to the Migration Policy Institute:
First, about 3 million immigrants living in the U.S. at the time were subsequently granted citizenship.
Enforcement was beefed up with a 50 per cent increase in Border Patrol. This led to a roughly 23 per cent spike in border arrests in the two years following the law. However, the employer provisions requiring citizenship proof from employees gave loose accommodations, requiring them to accept any document that “reasonably appears on its face to be genuine.” This led to a thriving false document industry, and government enforcement of employers was rather lax.
The Immigration Act of 1990
The focus of this act, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, helped strengthen legal avenues of immigration. Changes included:
- Revision of all grounds for exclusion and deportation
- Authorization of temporary protected status to aliens of designated countries
- Revision and establishment of new non immigrant admission categories
- Revision and extension of the Visa Waiver Pilot Program
- Revision of naturalization authority and requirements.
Here’s what happened:
The number of annual visas increased to 700,000 (previously 530,000) from 1992 to 1994, and dropped to 675,000 annually thereafter. A number of new visa categories were created, with an emphasis on granting citizenship to those with family already inside the U.S. and highly-skilled workers.
Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996
Signed by President Bill Clinton, this law offered some of the most sweeping changes to immigration law in since 1986. The largest focus was on beefing up border security, and the law also offered more stringent enforcement measures to counter the flow of illegal immigrants. Here are the big items:
- Doubled the number of border patrol agents to 10,000 over five years and required building a fourteen-mile long fence along the Mexican border.
- Placed big penalties on people who help smuggle illegal immigrants or provide them with false documents.
- Radically expanded the types of offenses that could result in an immigrant being detained or deported.
Here’s what happened: First, border enforcement was greatly enhanced and deportations were expedited. Under the new law, immigrants needed at least three employment authorization verifications, and non-citizens were restricted from getting public benefits.
Although not its purpose, the bill also had a serious effect on legal immigration as well with the elimination of a “suspension of deportation” practice. Immigrants wanting to avoid deportation and being barred from returning needed to be in the U.S. for at least one year and “of good moral character for five years.”
The long-held practice of judicial review was also eliminated, resulting in some non-citizens being deported for minor crimes they may have committed in the past — shoplifting, for instance — and being permanently barred from returning.
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