Lessons From Last Amnesty—Problems With The 1986 IRCA Legislation Program

Lessons from the Last Amnesty
Problems with the 1986 IRCA Legalization Program

Center For Immigration Studies
Contact: Bryan Griffith, press@cis.org, (202) 466-8185
January 5, 2010

WASHINGTON (January 5, 2010) The Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress have announced they will try to pass an amnesty for illegal aliens this year. Only the House version of their bill has so far been introduced: H.R. 4321. The Senate companion bill will be sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer, who, while in the House, was a key player in passing the last big amnesty, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).

Lawmakers would be remiss if they did not examine the implementation of the IRCA amnesty, and consider its cautionary lessons. To assist that process, the Center for Immigration Studies has published a report that details the dysfunctional inner workings of the legalization program. A Bailout for Illegal Immigrants? Lessons from the Implementation of the 1986 IRCA Amnesty was prepared by Center Fellow and longtime immigration researcher David North, who spent nearly two years (funded by the Ford Foundation and a federal agency) examining the IRCA amnesty as it was being implemented.

Among the report's conclusions:

(1) The agency running the program, the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), far from being the tough law-enforcement agency the immigrants advocates feared, turned out to be a typical governmental agency with a strong case of client-itis, one that usually said yes to its applicants.

(2) Operating without many useful precedents, INS created a new and questionable decision-making process that severely hampered the detection of fraud.

(3) A great deal of money intended for the legalization program was diverted to other government programs.

(4) As a result, there was a tremendous amount of fraud, largely ignored by INS. A subsequent Center for Immigration Studies estimate, based on population estimates, found that fully one-quarter of those granted legal status had secured that status through fraud.

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The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent research institution that examines the impact of immigration on the United States.