Key Differences Right-Wing Media Ignore Between The Senate Immigration Bill And 1986 Law

Right-wing media have cited the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 as a reason to oppose the bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the Senate June 27. However, the Senate immigration bill learns from and corrects the mistakes of the IRCA through increased border and interior enforcement and the creation of a legal channel for low-skilled workers.

Right-Wing Media Liken Senate Immigration Bill To 1986 Law

Fox News' Jon Scott: “I'm Just A Little Suspicious” Of Immigration Reform “Because I Remember That '86 Bill.” On Happening Now, co-host Jon Scott likened the Senate immigration bill to the 1986 law, saying he was “just a little suspicious”:

SCOTT: I'm just a little suspicious, because I remember that '86 bill and the proclamation at the time was we are going to solve this problem once and for all, and once we do this, in the Reagan years, there won't be another problem with illegal immigration. And lo and behold here, what, 30 years later we have, what, 14, 13 million people here illegally. [Fox News, Happening Now6/20/13]

Rush Limbaugh: “What We're Being Told Today Is Exactly What The Country Was Told In 1986.” On The Five, Rush Limbaugh disparaged the Senate immigration bill and claimed that “what we're being told today is exactly what the country was told in 1986”:

LIMBAUGH: Well, everybody says the immigration system is broken. And the only thing that I can see that's broken about the immigration system is that we're not enforcing existing law. I don't know what couldn't be fixed if we just did that. I don't think we need a whole new set of laws.

What we're being told today is exactly what the country was told in 1986. It was Simpson-Mazzoli. If we legalize these 3 million, we grant them amnesty, we'll never have to do this again.

And there's been all kinds of promises about border security first. That was taken back. There's no effort to secure the border. Therefore, there's no effort to stop the inflow. [Fox News, The Five, 7/10/13]

Laura Ingraham Provides Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) Platform To Tout False Parallels Between Senate Bill And 1986 Law. On The O'Reilly Factor, guest host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham provided Sen. Ted Cruz a platform to fabricate similarities between the 1986 law and the Senate immigration bill:

INGRAHAM: The Republicans up there on Capitol Hill, you guys are all pulling each other's hair out on this immigration deal, which is quite -- it's quite interesting to watch from my vantage point. We had Bob Corker up on the Senate floor today trying to do myth busting. All you people say that -- that the border fence isn't going to be done and these agents aren't going to be hired. It's a bunch of lies. People are trying to kill this bill even though people like you, Ted Cruz, get what you always say you wanted. You wanted border enforcement, now you get it.

CRUZ: Well, the nice thing is, Laura, we don't have to hypothesize; we don't have to guess because we've seen this exact pattern before, in 1986 Congress told the American people let's grant amnesty to some 3 million people who are here illegally and then some time in the future we'll secure the border.

Now what happened? The amnesty happened, the border never got secured. This Gang of Eight bill is the exact same shell game. The legalization happens immediately and the border security is promised sometime in the future, maybe.

I don't think the American people are going to fall for it a second time. Overwhelming majorities of the American people want to see our broken immigration system fixed and want to see the border secured now. That's actually why we've launched a national petition at In just a week we've had over 100,000 people go to -


CRUZ: And say fix the problem, don't repeat the mistakes of 1986. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor6/25/13]

Washington Times Op-Ed: “Here We Are Again.” In a Washington Times op-ed, Heritage Foundation founder Ed Feulner prefaced his critique of the Senate immigration bill with a description of Reagan's “big amnesty bill,” saying of the new legislation, “here we are again”:

My friend and colleague Ed Meese is second to no one in his admiration for Ronald Reagan. However, the man who served as the nation's 75th attorney general will readily admit it was a serious mistake for Reagan to accept the compromise at the heart of the 1986 immigration “reform” bill and sign it into law.

Why? Because that piece of legislation turned out to be a big amnesty bill. No, it wasn't advertised that way. It was sold as “border security in exchange for amnesty.” Except that the promised border security never materialized. “Amnesty first, border security second” may have sounded good in theory, but it worked out to be nothing but amnesty.

It also was presented as a “one-time only” deal. Yet here we are again.

The least that today's lawmakers could do is learn from this experience. Unfortunately, not enough of them have. Politicians from both sides of the aisle insist that the latest immigration reform isn't amnesty. Oh, no. It would merely give legal residency to the 11 million people who are here illegally. Excuse me, but how is that not amnesty? [The Washington Times7/16/13]

1986 Law Failed To Curb Illegal Immigration Due To Lack Of Enforcement And Legal Alternatives

Migration Policy Institute: Unauthorized Population Growth Result Of Inadequate Legal Immigration Policies And Inconsistent Enforcement Of Employer Verification Laws. In a 2010 policy brief, the Migration Policy Institute explained how the IRCA caused the unauthorized population to rise dramatically:

IRCA sought to reduce illegal immigration on a permanent basis by coupling a broad legalization program with increased border enforcement and a new employment verification and employer sanctions regime designed to reduce the “magnet” (work) that drew people to the United States illegally. Prior to IRCA, it was not against the law to hire unauthorized workers.

IRCA reduced the US unauthorized population to between 1.8 million and 3 million persons. However, this population rose dramatically through the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s, peaking at 12 million in 2007. This growth can be attributed in part to the failure of US legal immigration policies -- which IRCA left almost entirely intact -- to meet US labor market needs during these years. It can also be attributed to inconsistent enforcement of the employer verification laws and to flaws in the employer verification regime that make it difficult to detect when unauthorized workers present the legitimate documents of others. [Migration Policy Institute, December 2010]

Wash. Post: “Law Was Supposed To Put A Stop To Illegal Immigration Into The United States Once And For All. Instead, The Exact Opposite Happened.” The Washington Post's Wonkblog noted that instead of stopping illegal immigration into the U.S., the 1986 law did “the exact opposite.” Wonkblog explained:

Part of that was due to flimsy enforcement measures. But a major conceptual flaw in the bill, says Doris Meissner, was that the authors of the bill simply misjudged the high demand for immigrant labor in the United States.

“Congress didn't foresee at the time that employers would want more immigrants in the years ahead,” Meissner says. As a result, the law never set up a good process to provide as many legal immigrants as the labor markets would demand in the years ahead.

That meant that after the 1986 reform passed, there was a bottleneck for legal immigration and weak rules against illicit hiring. Given the still-high demand for foreign labor, the end result was, predictably, a boom in illegal immigration. [Wonkblog, The Washington Post1/30/13]

Senate Immigration Bill Fixes Mistakes Of 1986 Law

Senate Bill Includes Dramatic Increase In Border Enforcement

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): Bill Would Turn The Southwestern Border Into “The Most Militarized Border Since The Fall Of The Berlin Wall.” Discussing the border provisions -- which were added in an amendment authored by Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) -- on CNN on June 25,  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said the bill would turn the Southwestern border into the “the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall”:

McCAIN: I think that, first of all, the legislation concerning beefed up border security removes any validity to the argument that border security is not sufficient. I mean, this is not only sufficient, it is well over sufficient. We'll be the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall so that's why I think this amendment was very important. [Talking Points Memo, 6/25/13]

Bill Allocates $30 Billion In Additional Funding For “No Fewer Than 38,405 Trained Full-Time Active Duty U.S. Border Patrol Agents.” The Hoeven-Corker amendment allocates $30 billion in additional funding for “no fewer than 38,405 trained full-time active duty U.S. Border Patrol agents” to be “deployed, stationed, and maintained along the Southern Border” over the next decade. [Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, accessed 7/19/13]

Bill Calls For No Less Than 700 Miles Of Fencing. The Senate bill calls for no less than 700 miles of total fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border:

[T]he Secretary will certify that there is in place along the Southern Border no fewer than 700 miles of pedestrian fencing which will include replacement of all currently existing vehicle fencing on non-tribal lands on the Southern Border with pedestrian fencing where possible, and after this has been accomplished may include a second layer of pedestrian fencing in those locations along the Southern Border which the Secretary deems necessary or appropriate. [Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, accessed 7/19/13]

Mother Jones: “Senate Bill Would Give CBP At Least $4.5 Billion For Surveillance Technology.” In addition to additional border patrol agents and fencing, the Senate bill would allocate at least $4.5 billion to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for surveillance technology, including virtual fences and drones:

Virtual fences: The Senate bill would give CBP at least $4.5 billion for surveillance technology in an effort to ensure a 100 percent watch over the southern border. In 2006, the government launched the Secure Border Initiative, an $850 million “virtual fence” surveillance project led by Boeing that was rife with oversight problems and later declared a failure by DHS. Military contractors, facing diminishing profits in Iraq and Afghanistan, will soon vie for a contract worth up to $1 billion for towers, radars, and camera systems -- a reworking of the earlier program. One likely candidate is Lockheed Martin, which received $106 million in CBP contracts in 2012.

Drones: Another chunk of the $4.5 billion for surveillance will go toward unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, which cost about $18 million to buy and another $3,000 or so each hour of flight (PDF). Northrop Grumman, which received $90 million in various DHS contracts in 2012, is trying to sell the department on a drone-mounted tracking device that's been used to detect bombs in Afghanistan; General Atomics, which received nearly $30 million from CBP in 2012, recently got a contract worth upward of $400 million that it plans to use to double the number of its border drones. [Mother Jones,6/26/13]

Senate Bill Enacts Mandatory Employment Verification System

E-Verify Tries To Fix “Spotty” Interior Enforcement. Unlike the IRCA, the Senate bill holds employers accountable through E-Verify, a mandatory electronic employer verification system:

The immigration reform law that passed in 1986 made it illegal for employers to hire anyone in the country without authorization. But enforcement has been spotty and fake documents make it hard for employers to know who is here legally or not.

So how are politicians addressing it this time around? One of the existing options is E-Verify, a federal program that uses a variety of government databases to determine whether an individual is eligible to work legally in the U.S.


Here's how E-Verify works.

When participating employers hire new workers, they are required to check forms of identification, such as a passport or the combination of a driver's license and Social Security card, and enter employee information into the system via the web. E-Verify then returns an approval or non-approval. If a worker is approved, the employer can wrap things up relatively quickly. If not approved, the system helps them figure out why. [ABC News, 2/28/13]

America's Voice's Frank Sharry: E-Verify “Will Make It Significantly Harder For Unauthorized Workers To Get Hired.” In a statement on the Senate bill's enforcement provisions, America's Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry said the Senate bill will “significantly expand and improve enforcement at the point of hire”:

First, the new bill combines the vastly increased border security of today with a mandatory electronic employer verification system.  Arguably the most underreported aspect of the current bill, this system will make it significantly harder for unauthorized workers to get hired and nearly impossible to use fake documents to obtain jobs.  Yes, some employers will circumvent the system and seek out exploitable workers without papers, but the bill cracks down hard on them.  And these employers will be the exception, not the norm, as they are now in some industries and occupations.  Instead of focusing enforcement mostly at the point of entry, the Senate bill will significantly expand and improve enforcement at the point of hire. [America's Voice, 5/14/13]

Senate Bill Creates Legal Alternative For Low-Skilled Workers

Bill Curtails Future Flows Of Unauthorized Immigration By Providing Legal Alternative. Unlike the IRCA, the Senate bill will provide a legal alternative for low-skilled workers through the nonimmigrant W visa:

One of the explicit goals of S.744 is to curtail future flows of unauthorized immigration by correcting some of the flaws of the current legal immigration system. To that end, it establishes an updated system of legal immigration that, in principle, seeks to match the country's economic and labor needs while respecting principles of family unification. Evidence shows that changes in unauthorized migration have, to a great extent, followed fluctuations in the economy. In other words, undocumented flows tend to increase during periods of economic growth and decrease during periods of recession. The legal immigration system, on the contrary, has not been aligned with the economic cycle.

Based on this scenario, the bill contemplates mechanisms aimed at absorbing future flows through legal channels. For example, it creates a new nonimmigrant visa for lower-skilled workers called the W visa, which will create stronger channels for lower-skilled workers when the economy is growing. The W visa will be regulated by a new agency based on assessments of shortages in certain occupations. In addition, S.744 proposes changes in immigrant visas that will create stronger avenues for lower skilled workers. Specifically, under the new merit based-point system it allocates between 60,000 and 125,000 visas each year to lower skilled immigrants. The bill also raises the cap for employment-based immigrant visas allocated to lower skilled workers. [Immigration Impact, 5/21/13]

Sharry: Worker-Oriented Legal Channels Address “One Of The Fundamental Reasons IRCA Fell Short.” Sharry described the Senate bill's legal alternative for low-skilled workers as a critical solution to the IRCA's shortcomings:

Third, the Senate bill creates a set of worker-oriented legal channels that provide a legal alternative for low-skilled workers coming in the future. It's these channels that Senator Sessions was trying to constrict with this morning's amendment, only to fail miserably.  One of the fundamental reasons IRCA fell short is that it did not acknowledge the need for a properly-regulated legal channel for essential workers.  For example, in the mid-2000s, when unemployment was low and demand for low-skilled labor was high, an estimated 500,000 undocumented workers entered the U.S. labor market each year.  During that time the number of visas available for permanent low-skilled workers was (and is) 5,000.  That gap in demand and supply led to high levels of unauthorized immigration - and, due to increased border patrols at traditional entry points, high levels of migrant deaths in the desert.  The current proposal allows needed workers to apply for visas overseas and come legally with labor rights, on an airplane rather than through a dangerous desert crossing. [America's Voice, 5/14/13]