Ed Meese Knows It's Amnesty


Read Ed Meese’s OP/ED in today’s New York Times. He calls the current immigration proposals what they are: amnesty:

Since he was with President Reagan when he signed the 1986 amnesty bill into law, Meese knows amnesty when he sees it:

In the mid-80’s, many members of Congress — pushed by the Democratic majority in the House and the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy — advocated amnesty for long-settled illegal immigrants. President Reagan considered it reasonable to adjust the status of what was then a relatively small population, and I supported his decision.

In exchange for allowing aliens to stay, he decided, border security and enforcement of immigration laws would be greatly strengthened — in particular, through sanctions against employers who hired illegal immigrants. If jobs were the attraction for illegal immigrants, then cutting off that option was crucial.

Beyond this, most illegal immigrants who could establish that they had resided in America continuously for five years would be granted temporary resident status, which could be upgraded to permanent residency after 18 months and, after another five years, to citizenship.

Note that this path to citizenship was not automatic. Indeed, the legislation stipulated several conditions: immigrants had to pay application fees, learn to speak English, understand American civics, pass a medical exam and register for military selective service. Those with convictions for a felony or three misdemeanors were ineligible. Sound familiar? These are pretty much the same provisions included in the new Senate proposal and cited by its supporters as proof that they have eschewed amnesty in favor of earned citizenship.

The difference is that President Reagan called this what it was: amnesty. Indeed, look up the term “amnesty” in Black’s Law Dictionary, and you’ll find it says, “the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act provided amnesty for undocumented aliens already in the country.”

Like the amnesty bill of 1986, the current Senate proposal would place those who have resided illegally in the United States on a path to citizenship, provided they meet a similar set of conditions and pay a fine and back taxes. The illegal immigrant does not go to the back of the line but gets immediate legalized status, while law-abiding applicants wait in their home countries for years to even get here. And that’s the line that counts. In the end, slight differences in process do not change the overriding fact that the 1986 law and today’s bill are both amnesties.

There is a practical problem as well: the 1986 act did not solve our illegal immigration problem. From the start, there was widespread document fraud by applicants. Unsurprisingly, the number of people applying for amnesty far exceeded projections. And there proved to be a failure of political will in enforcing new laws against employers.

After a six-month slowdown that followed passage of the legislation, illegal immigration returned to normal levels and continued unabated. Ultimately, some 2.7 million people were granted amnesty, and many who were not stayed anyway, forming the nucleus of today’s unauthorized population.

So here we are, 20 years later, having much the same debate and being offered much the same deal in exchange for promises largely dependent on the will of future Congresses and presidents.

Former Attorney General Meese is right. The 1986 amnesty law didn’t solve the illegal alien problem; it, unfortunately, exacerbated it, and the immigration reform bills that include a path to citizenship will do the same.

Former AG Meese is holding a blogger only conference call later this morning, and I am participating. I am anxious to hear what he has to say. I will provide a report later.

Update: I participated in a blogger conference call earlier this morning with former Attorney General Ed Meese and Matt Spalding from the Heritage Foundation. As I mentioned earlier in the post, the issue was immigration reform. Mr. Meese is highly critical of the Senate’s amnesty bill that is riddled with loopholes asking to be exploited. How? Well, the Senate’s bill calls for a three-tier system (H/T to Right Wing News for link). Take a look:

The bill would create a three-tier system for illegal immigrants seeking to stay in the country. People who could prove they have been here five or more years could apply for citizenship. Those who have lived here two to five years could stay as guest workers and later apply for citizenship.

How do illegal immigrants prove they have been in this country for five or more years? By providing an affidavit from a friend. That’s it. Document fraud would be rampant. In addition, the Senate’s bill would prevent local law enforcement from arresting illegal immigrants for being in this country illegally. Hamstringing local law officials is not enforcement.

Mr. Meese advocates an idea that would secure and enforce the border first. See Mr. Meese’s and Mr. Spalding’s article on their immigration plan published in March 2006 here. Mr. Meese acknowledged that after the amnesty law of 1986 was implemented, which called for a large increase in border securty, the US government was not motivated to actually enforce its own laws. However, with the technology we have today, Mr. Meese believes that border security should be easier.

Only after the border has been secured will the temporary worker program be implemented, and as a pilot program first. There is a possibility that the private sector could offer assistance in helping illegals return to their home countries and reapply for temporary worker status.

The only way this plan can work is if the 12 million people currently in this country illegally self-deport back to their home countries. The illegals who are here have grown roots in their communities. I’m not convinced that they will voluntarily uproot themselves and their families and self-deport to avoid the risk of deportation, which they don’t seem to think of as a huge risk right now. However, Mr. Meese said that the risk of not self-deporting will be greater than it is now and that there will be a stronger interior enforcement against employers.

The temporary worker program that Mr. Meese recommends is modeled after Helen Krieble‘s idea of a market based solution. Private employment agencies would match up employees with employers.

Others who participated in the conference call:

Tim Chapman
Captain’s Quarters
Michelle Malkin
Mary Katharine
John Hawkins
Freeman Hunt
Jon Henke

Update II: The Senate voted 73-25 for cloture to the immigration bill debate. As I reported that Ed Meese said earlier, this bill would create a situation where we would find ourselves 10 – 15 years from now with millions more illegal immigrants living here in the US

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