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Every election cycle, the issue of immigration resurfaces for the American voter and with the crisis at the border, this issue has recently received even more attention in the mainstream. But for undocumented immigrants, immigration policy is more than a current event; it impacts their daily lives.
Though it is impossible to mathematically measure the impact of all immigration policies, this series will analyze the major immigration policies of 4 U.S. administrations, categorizing the policies as either harmful or beneficial. We will start with the Reagan administration.
There is a broad understanding that Republicans are anti-immigrant and Democrats are pro, however history tells us otherwise. This is not a defense of any party but an attempt to gain clarity on how undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers have recently fared in the United States.
This project is dear to my heart because I am the daughter of immigrants and I am increasingly disappointed in politicians’ false promises to my community. I hope this project can bring clarity and inspire people to always pay attention to how policies affect the most marginalized, no matter who is in office.
Reagan’s views on immigration:
In today’s political climate, it may come as a surprise to many outside of the immigrant community that the Republican party shares many ideals with immigrant populations in the United States. God, family, hardwork and perseverance unify older Latinx generations with the Republican traditional view of ‘family values.’
In 1986, Republican President Ronald Reagan signed arguably the most beneficial immigration reform law in U.S. history. The Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986 gave a path to citizenship to almost 3 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. at the time.
Reagan was vocally in favor of improving conditions for undocumented immigrants. In a 1984 debate, Reagan said “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.”
However, the impact of the Simpson-Mazzoli Act was complicated. The reform was meant to fix the broken immigration system by discouraging future unauthorized immigration. One of the provisions was tightening security at the border so that it would be more difficult for immigrants to enter without permission. Another provision was to fine business who hired undocumented immigrants thus making it harder for undocumented immigrants to get jobs once they were here.
Business owners objected to this provision because they were not interested in having the responsibility of enforcing immigration law in their private businesses. Their opposition was the only reason this provision was not included when the bill was signed.
Ilsia Muñiz-Department of Justice Accredited Representative at Immigrant Connection- expresses that the immigration reform has been one of the most beneficial immigration laws. “My mother was able to obtain legal status through this act and she’s always expressed gratitude for President Reagan and his administration.”
Juan Castellanos, another beneficiary of Reagan’s amnesty also expresses how his life changed after getting papers. “I started to work more, to go out more. We started to go out and have fun more, and have a normal life. We had more friends, started going to school, and after work we would do activities after work.” You can read more about Juan’s experience in this series’ next article.
In short, Reagan’s amnesty had a beneficial impact for millions of immigrants who had the opportunity to obtain a legal status. At the same time, this beneficial impact was limited to those already present in the country at the time the law passed. Ilsia adds that “little is mentioned when it comes to the ways in which the US exacerbated immigration during this same time period. The US funded civil wars in Central America that killed thousands of innocent people and led survivors to flee in the first place.” While the U.S. helped create chaos in other countries, it was closing the door to those fleeing that violence and other immigrants. Unfortunately, it seems that beneficial laws for undocumented immigrants are the exception and not the rule.