An excitement surrounding new immigration policies is growing as Americans perceive Congress making progress towards revamping our current immigration laws. This excitement is warranted considering there are now over 11 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the nation. Lucky for lawmakers, the immigration reform of 1986 is there to serve as a guide for what not to do, as many of those laws did little to improve the situation for immigrants. Some critic’s even claim that immigration reform laws of 1986 actually worsened several issues it set to resolve.
Karen Timulty’s article in the Washington Post (February 3, 2013) is useful for seeing the parallels between the reform of 1986 and the situation today. Both propose a legalization program for those who are illegal, motion to increase border control and dissuade employers from hiring people without proof of residency.
However, the previous reforms did little to deter undocumented immigrants from applying for jobs or employers from hiring them. After the reform was enacted, the chance of employers getting caught and fined for hiring illegals was very low because the lack of federal resources that went toward enforcing those laws. Today, the same hiring practices are still going on unresolved.
Legal immigration is another topic of previous reforms that had not been adequately dealt with. The 1986 reform gave people who had been in the country for five years the option to be legalized, but did not give any options for those who had moved into the country more recently. Ultimately, lawmakers made an attempted to help illegals towards a path of citizenship in the reforms of 1986, but fell short in that they only offered help to those that had been in the country for a certain amount of time.
As we await the formulation of new legislation, we hope that lawmakers more thoughtfully consider how immigrants both contribute to and affect the job market, and in turn, influence the development of our economy. Looking to the future of immigration, not just addressing the current problems, is one way the new legislation could improve from past attempts. With all that can be taken away from past legislation, hopefully this time around it won’t fall short.
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