Today, President Obama is expected to make a speech in Las Vegas to announce his latest attempt at enacting an amnesty program for the estimated 12-18 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the US. If a new amnesty law is enacted, it will be the eighth such law since 1986.
The first immigration amnesty, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. This law gave amnesty to illegal immigrants who had resided illegally in the US. The law also included sanctions for employers who knowingly hired illegal immigrants. At the time, officials estimated there were approximately 750K illegal immigrants in the US. Over 2.6 million illegal aliens legalized their immigration status through this law.
In 1995, as part of a Commerce bill, Congress added Section 245 (i) to the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA). This section of law allowed illegal immigrants in the US to apply for an immigrant visa without having to leave the US. Originally set to expire at the end of fiscal year 1997, President Bill Clinton extended the application expiration dates twice. Congress then extended the application expiration date one final time to end on January 14, 1998 thereby making Section 245 (i) the second and third amnesty program enacted into law. Although 2.6 million illegal immigrants had already legalized their status just a few years earlier, over 600K new illegal immigrants applied for amnesty under Section 245(i).
In 1997, Congress passed the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) which granted amnesty for approximately 1 million illegal immigrants from Nicaragua, Cuba and other Central American countries. Since it would be the fourth amnesty law in 11 years, congressional sponsors did not want to debate to leak out to the court of public opinion. It became law as an amendment to the appropriations bill for the District of Columbia.
Frustrated that they weren’t included in the NACARA amnesty, Haitians successfully lobbied for their own country specific immigration amnesty bill. To avoid public debate on a fifth immigration amnesty in a span of 12 years, open border advocates in Congress chose to pass the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA) as part of an omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 1999. Approximately 125K Haitians were legalized through HRIFA.
Shortly after IRCA was enacted, lawsuits were filed by illegal immigrants who weren’t eligible to legalize their status under the provisions of IRCA for a variety of reasons. In 2000, Congress settled the lawsuits with what became known as the Late Amnesty. Approximately 400K illegal immigrants were able to legalize their status under this agreement.
In 2000, Congress passed the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act which simply reinstated the provisions of Section 245 (i) for a four month period. Under this amnesty, an additional 900K illegal immigrant legalized their status in the US.
On Monday, January 28, 2013, a bipartisan group of Senators announced they had reached an agreement on the framework for what would become the eighth amnesty program for illegal aliens since 1986. They call it the Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.