Who Really Caused the Immigration Crisis (And Who Made It Worse)

02/03/2017 05:49 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2017
Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama
Wiki Commons
Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama

Many conservatives exploded a few years ago when it appeared that President Barack Obama’s Immigration Reform Plan was about to offer wholesale amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants. This caused a firestorm of outrage from the GOP. But that’s not what he was trying to do—and most of them knew it.

During a 15-minute prime-time address from the White House, Mr. Obama called his action “lawful.” He was not offering amnesty, but a “new deal” for illegal immigrants who had been in the U.S. for at least five years: Come out of the shadows, register legally, pass a background check, and they would be granted a stay of deportation. They’d also be given work permits for the next three years, during which time their citizenship would be processed (yes, it does take that long in many cases). Mr. Obama went on to say:

“I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today — millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time.”

He went on to dare his Republican critics in Congress to go against his offer, suggesting they pass a comprehensive immigration bill, one that would grant full citizenship rights to illegal immigrants. Mr. Obama agreed to sign it. The result? It would wipe away his own executive action. The GOP response was that Mr. Obama’s plan was, in the words of House Speaker John A. Boehner, an “abusive of the democratic process,” and “ignoring the will of the people.” Hmmm. Regardless, as was the often the case for nearly his entire Presidency, the GOP offered a plethora of criticism but little in the way of solutions. As we know, the whole thing fell apart in 2016.

Fast forward to January of this year: Before even so much as getting his seat warm as President, one of Mr. Trump’s first actions was to sign what he has admitted to being a ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries (all but two of which have not been associated with terrorist attacks). Conservatives and other rather ill-informed supporters have been singing Mr. Trump’s praises—on Twitter and just about everywhere else.

Despite the fact that it appears only 49 percent of the people agree with all of this, I wonder why Boehner hasn’t spoken out against it on the same platform of “the will of the American people?”

“America first,” is the consistent cheer from this anti-immigrant “worldview” position. However, to a man, all of these supporters of the ban—and its subsequent disastrous effects—have conveniently forgotten that RONALD REAGAN, their most beloved savior, is the Godfather of Amnesty and its disastrous effects. Moreover, Mr. Obama’s plan was very similar.

Despite the inconvenience of these hard facts (of which many on the right AND the left seem to be lacking these days), it is a fact that Mr. Reagan stated that The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was a crackdown on illegal immigration, one which he claimed would enhance and preserve our nation’s heritage when it comes to legal immigration. So far, so good.

What this act did was to immediately bring at least 2.7 million immigrants out of the closet and delivered them right into the hands of the U.S. workforce. These immigrants could, for the first time, apply for legal jobs, open their own bank accounts, build credit and even buy their own homes. Provided they could prove they’d lived in the USA continuously from at least 1981 onwards, they could also pay a nominal fee of $185 and become immediately eligible for a green card—something that usually takes months to achieve.

Some cried foul, but others supported this as being a positive step towards solving the illegal immigrant problem. Few conservatives raised up their voices loudly against their leader: “He’s the President,” they said.

But it didn’t quite work out so well. The GOP had a vision—to tighten border security and stem the flow of immigrants. And when it came to employers who hired these illegal immigrants, they also wanted to place sanctions on them. Not bad, you might say. But...

The effect?: The undocumented immigrant population in the U.S. exploded from an estimated 5 million in 1986 to more than 11 million in 2014 (a number that in the last few years has gone down, not up).

Another benefit from the GOP solution: Identity fraud became a major issue. Fake documents and applications were a huge contributor to the undocumented labor market. And what about those sanctions against employers? They had little to no effect.

Despite this legacy from Mr. Reagan, among the many statements about the Obama Plan, GOP Rep. Mo Brooks said in 2014 that “[Obama]… sees this as the equivalent of a Democratic Party voter registration drive.” Perhaps he did. But it’s doubtless today that Brooks, Trump and his regime also operate under this same equivalency. America first gets votes for them—even if it got them less than Hillary Clinton.

How very convenient a short memory is. A few years ago, the delightful Sarah Palin went so far as to suggest the Mr. Obama should’ve been impeached if he offered even “a hint of amnesty” towards illegals. She too forgot to read about Mr. Reagan’s Laws—“all of ‘em.” At least GOP Rep. Steven King offered some level of honesty when he dumped on the 1986 act a few years ago, claiming that “it led to 15M votes for Barack Obama.” He was not incorrect.

All of this considered, Mr. Obama’s actions did little to bring about positive change. In fact, some immigration advocates have called him the “deporter-in-chief,” with more than 2 million deportations under his watch, a number which actually outpaced his predecessor, Mr. Bush.

But it’s also certain that Mr. Reagan’s 1986’s Amnesty Law led directly to the right wing’s worst fear—a tremendous shift in demographics. At the time of the passing of the law, 3.7 percent of Americans who voted were Latino. By 2016, it was projected to be over 27 percent.

It is this result that has, perhaps, made the GOP and the far right blush with embarrassment and disgust—they got it wrong when it comes to keeping the country “safe” from immigrants. Their lack of foresight made a situation they disliked far worse. And now, it appears they’ve finally got the chance to “Make America Great Again.”

Whatever Mr. Reagan or Mr. Obama’s true objectives were, the net result was the same—at the end run, neither did much to solve a messy situation. In fact, over the last few years, some have even tried to roll back a 2008 human trafficking law, hoping it will expedite the deportation proceedings. That’s anything but a solution.

The general argument from Conservatives is that it’s death to prospect for immigrant amnesty of any kind (Eric Cantor found that out the hard way). But, considering the stunning amount of protests over the past weeks in response to the current President’s ban (not to mention the whole “deleteUber” thing and the results of that campaign), it seems that banning immigrants is also hot button enough to set a torch at the feet of those who appear to support it.

Both sides claim the other abuses their political powers. Certainly, Mr. Trump is leading the way when it comes to illegal actions. But he’s not alone. And at times each side has. Mr. Obama made some serious mis-steps as to what he could achieve along those lines. The blame game from both sides of this and other divisive issues has been played for decades, getting us nowhere in the process. We the people are paying the price, regardless of what side we are on.

Our country is not founded on whether we like or dislike each other. We don’t have to like each other. We don’t have to get along with each other. We don’t even have to be in contact with those we find disagreeable. But, like it or not, our Constitution does offer equal rights to all, and we are founded on immigration—much of it illegal.

Personally, I can’t help but wonder when the USA will find a measure of balance for the needs of all of its citizens, as well as those who wish to become one of them. After over 200 years of telling the rest of the world that our transparent values are superior to theirs, I’m left with one question:

Isn’t it time our nation lived up to that?

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