Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Little History: Late Twentieth Century Republican Immigration Policies

From Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and running through the two Bush Presidencies, the GOP has faced the question of undocumented aliens from Mexico and points south.  As the number of undocumented workers swelled over the years, the notion of doing “something” about the issue slowly rose in importance. In 1970, there were only an estimated 760,000 undocumented Mexican workers in the U.S. according to Census estimates. Over 35 years, that number increased steadily and dramatically, 15-fold by as many as 500,000 a year.
While estimates have ranged from those provided by the Pew Research Center above to demographics from other sources suggesting a greater number, the above chart only addresses Mexican nationals. If you add non-Mexican workers from around the world (most from Latin countries), the 2007 total of undocumented workers reached 12.8 million. In 2014, Pew reported roughly 11.3 million undocumented workers in total. It’s pretty clear that numbers fell dramatically during the Great Recession and continue to fall into the present. Just looking at the above chart, you can understand how concern over immigration across our southern border has changed over time. The reaction of the political forces paralleled that change. Here is the Republican track record.
In the early 1970s, Nixon knew that the flow of workers seeking economic opportunity was chaotic, but given the small numbers of actual undocumented workers, it was an issue that was not particularly pressing. Still, he urged Congress to pass legislation that would grant “A higher percentage of immigrant visas for professionals, needed workers and refugees. [And provide for] Additional visas for the Western hemisphere, with special provisions for our nearest neighbors, Mexico and Canada.” Gerald Ford (president from 1974 to 1977) did little more than press for “More southern border patrol to stop heroin traffic.”
But by the time Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, there was a rising cry both in the body politic and Congress to address the issue. Ronald Reagan rose to the occasion. Here’s what he wrote and released on July 30, 1981:
• We have a special relationship with our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico. Our immigration policy should reflect this relationship.
• We must also recognize that both the United States and Mexico have historically benefited from Mexicans obtaining employment in the United States. A number of our States have special labor needs, and we should take these into account.
• Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status. At the same time, in so doing, we must not encourage illegal immigration.
• We shall strive to distribute fairly, among the various localities of this country, the impacts of our national immigration and refugee policy, and we shall improve the capability of those agencies of the Federal Government which deal with these matters.
• We shall seek new ways to integrate refugees into our society without nurturing their dependence on welfare.

The result was the Immigration and Control Act of 1986, which reformed United States immigration law. The Act
·         required employers to attest to their employees' immigration status;
·         made it illegal to hire or recruit illegal immigrants knowingly;
·         legalized certain seasonal agricultural illegal immigrants, and;
·         legalized illegal immigrants who entered the United States before January 1, 1982 and had resided there continuously with the penalty of a fine, back taxes due, and admission of guilt; candidates were required to prove that they were not guilty of crimes, that they were in the country before January 1, 1982, and that they possessed minimal knowledge about U.S. history, government, and the English language.
At the time, the Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated that about four million illegal immigrants would apply for legal status through the act and that roughly half of them would be eligible.Wikipedia.
George H.W. Bush (1989-1993), a border state governor (Texas), actually signed the Immigration Act of 1990 that actually increased the legal influx of immigrants, including a new category of super-skilled immigrants (the coveted H-1B visa), provisions for relatives of Americans and a greater number of immigrants across many categories, introducing the lottery system for countries with lower admissions rates (including Mexico and points south).
By the time H.W.’s son, George W. Bush (also a Texas governor), was elected president in 2001 with pretty solid support from the Latino community, the U.S. was almost at that peak of undocumented aliens. But he simply failed to get Congress behind a comprehensive immigration reform bill; given the large number of Latino voters in Texas, Bush was viewed as sympathetic towards undocumented workers. Bush described his failed goals in 2008 as, “What to do with the approximately twelve million illegal immigrants in the country? [He outlined] a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant and a program of mass deportation…
“[Still,] Bush ended ‘catch and release,’ the practice of picking up illegal aliens from countries other than Mexico and then releasing them on their own recognizance until their deportation hearing, for which most never showed. Bush thought it encouraged contempt for law. So he expanded the facilities to hold these illegals until deportation hearings. In 2000, it took nearly a hundred days on average to process someone out of the country. When Bush left office, it took less than twenty.” He also upgraded border fencing and bolstered the Border Patrol.
Even though the numbers of undocumented aliens in the U.S. are falling on their own, there’s a new sheriff in town, one who seems to want to go to the extreme that no Republican, even when the numbers were significantly higher, was willing to pursue. As I have blogged before, even as Texas GOP lawmakers and border residents think that the Wall is a waste of taxpayer money, even as the big city mayors, the state legislature and the governor in California oppose the harsh policies proposed by Mr. Trump, we appear to be in a new era where middle ground – the same middle ground championed by GOP stalwarts like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush – is a vestige of a bygone era. Meanwhile, decent Americans from both parties are at each other’s throats over immigration. The fight is just tearing us apart.
            I’m Peter Dekom, and as much as Donald Trump tries to tell us he is a Republican in the mold of Ronald Reagan, nothing could be farther from the truth, but then truth seems to be another vestige of a bygone era.

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