When Ronald Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, the American people believed that the illegal immigrant problem was on the road to resolution. It was a law that accommodated illegal aliens in their bid for legal status while giving the employers ample time to conform to the new regulations. The I-9 form that we all complete came from this legislation as proof that we are legal to have employment in the United States.
Past infractions by the illegal immigrants and the employers alike were forgiven. This move was reminiscent of the Old Testament celebration of Jubilee where debts are forgiven every fifty years.
In conjunction with the new requirements, stiff penalties would be imposed on employers knowingly hiring illegal immigrants after their grace period expired. The reality is that the laws were largely not enforced and most of the fines imposed were not collected. There were a host of problems with the 1986 legislation but a report was to be issued every three years to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan so that adjustments could be made as needed.
The significant problem with the I-9 was that there was no system in place to verify authenticity of contained information. Therefore, counterfeit documentation was fairly easy for the illegal immigrants to obtain. Staggering numbers of illegal immigrants continued to enter and work in this country.
In the 1996 Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act a pilot program for verifying I-9 information authenticity was put into place. It did not become available nationwide until 2004, a full 18 years after the 1986 immigration reform act.
Once again, 2010 is likely to bring yet another immigration reform bill. Unfortunately, this is being touted as a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bit of legislation. The act which was passed in 1986 seemed pretty comprehensive to me but the problems have escalated. Follow through seems to be the real issue in most important legislation and this is yet another shining example of the failures associated with inadequate funding and the lack of enforcement of existing laws.
Interestingly enough, the argument is being made for amnesty for the offending employers. By my calculations, Jubilee shouldn’t come around again until 2036.