In recent times, the socio-economic and legal problem of migration to the US has begun to acquire an increasingly political connotation. It became not only an object of discussion about the methods and forms of migration regulation but also a battlefield for leading political parties and opposition between legislative and executive authorities. A reform concerning migration legislation has long been expected by American society, but there is no consolidated opinion about what kind of result and by what means should be achieved. This lack of unity concerning the issue is mainly due to the conflicting results of the reform carried out in 1986, which serves as a cornerstone in the history of migration regulations and laid the foundation for future changes in the domain.
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High level of illegal immigration in the 1980-1990s predetermined the main areas of migration strategy. 1980 was the year when the annual quantity of immigrants crossing the borders of the United States reached its all-time high of 1.3 million (Skulley et al. 6). Thus, tightening administrative measures against illegal immigration and expansion of opportunities for naturalization and socialization of illegal migrants became the central policies to be considered during that period. The decisive factor in the process was the adoption of an act that would cease the migrants influx, naturalizing those who have been living in the USA for a sufficient number of years. In the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, Congress introduced sanctions (from administrative fines to prison sentences) for employers who hire illegal immigrants or people who do not have work permits in the United States (Kaplowitz 637). The law obliged to check the documents of all potential applicants for any position (Kaplowitz 637). It also provided for measures to make the border control more rigorous and initiated general reinforcement of US border control by patrol services.
The path of Immigration Reform and Control Act to its final adoption was not an easy one – four years the bill was at various stages of consideration in Congress. Finally, the act was authorized by Ronald Reagan, a conservative president, who deemed necessary to remove illegal immigrants from the marginal zones of society and guarantee that the economy could benefit from supplementary labor resources. Reagan was a governor of California for almost a decade and thus knew that changing the situation with illegal immigration by just implementing restrictive policies was hardly possible (Kaplowitz 636). Thus, President Reagan created Task Force on Immigration and Refugee Policy, presented reform proposals, and encouraged Congress to consider them (Kaplowitz 636). Nevertheless, Kaplowitz notices that “Reagan never led aggressively and seemed to lose interest, so that scholars generally downplay the administration’s role in the legislative reform” (637). The passage of the act was opposed by the general public and seemed surprising to a lot of citizens (Skulley et al. 3). Consequently, the complicated history of IRCA passage was forced out of the necessity to control the growing flow of migrants.
The act was primarily designed to reduce the steadily increasing illegal labor immigration, which seemingly reached its peak at that time. It served as a method that both strived to legalize numerous immigrants who were already in the USA and build impediments for future illegal immigration. Even though the Immigration Reform and Control Act allowed thousands of illegal immigrants to legalize their residence in the United States, it did not reduce the influx of migrants crossing the Mexican-American border (Freedman et al. 118). The act is still ambiguously perceived in the United States, especially in the republican environment due to the chain reaction that followed. Moreover, IRCA also created an opportunity for illegal migrants on the territory of the USA to legalize their status by receiving an amnesty with the prospect of obtaining a permanent residence permit (Freedman et al. 118). Thus, the passage of IRCA led to accelerating the high growth rate of the Latin American population in the Southwestern United States (Freedman et al. 128). The act also had a significant impact on changing the racial and national composition in the country.
Despite the numerous advantages that followed the adoption of IRCA, many illegal immigrants did not change their status, since they had problems documenting the period of their stay. These immigrants were afraid that even if their application were accepted, some of their relatives or friends would not be admitted (“The Origins History”). Subsequently, of a significant number of illegal immigrants who stayed in the USA at that time, only a small part was legalized. In this way, the most considerable influence of the act was on the labor market as it allowed a lot of illegal migrants to keep working. Nonetheless, employers who hired illegal migrants could receive administrative penalties, and in some cases, even be sentenced to prison (Kaplowitz 646). These complications had a negative effect on the presence of illegal immigrants but did not stop its augmentation.
Another disputed impact of the act was an attempt to limit federal financial damage, where possible, by reducing the number of immigrants eligible to receive benefits. Moreover, several studies show that after the act was adopted, unauthorized immigrants had more chances to be exploited by unscrupulous employers, as their wages dropped significantly (Freedman et al. 124). In this way, IRCA remains a controversial topic among historians. The act managed to legalize a number of migrants but did not stop the significant augmentation in the number of illegal ones and established a strong presence of the underground job market.
The problem of immigration has long been an intrinsic part of the political domain in the USA – immigration reform is one of the most controversial issues in modern America. It should be noted that this problem does not remain only within the political sphere since citizens take an active part in its discussion as it systematically affects everybody’s everyday life. As a society, the citizens of the United States may have strong opinions on the issue, which are often in opposition and indicate that reaching a consensus may be problematic. Nevertheless, addressing reforms concerning illegal immigration in the current socio-political environment seems like a relevant objective.
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The evolution of US immigration policy indicates that immigration is a crucial segment in the evolution of American society, and the problem of illegal migration has almost always been present in the country. The repercussions of an elevation in migration during the second half of the twentieth century led to difficulties of controlling legal immigration. The current state of US immigration policy is characterized not only by the existence of prohibitive measures and increased border controls but also by attempts to bring population movements in line with the needs of the economy. However, the lack of comprehensive vision and disputes between the opposing parties has not yet allowed the full implementation of any comprehensive immigration reform.
“The Origins History of United States Immigration Policy.” Green Card, 2018. Web.
Freedman, Matthew, et al. “Immigration, Employment Opportunities, and Criminal Behavior”. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, vol. 10, no. 2, 2018, pp. 117–151.
Kaplowitz, Craig. “The Great Repudiator and Immigration Reform: Ronald Reagan and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.” Journal of Policy History, vol. 30, no. 4, 2018, pp. 635–656.
Skulley, Carrie, et al. “Majority Rule vs. Minority Rights: Immigrant Representation Despite Public Opposition on the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.” Politics, Groups, and Identities, 2017, pp. 1–19.