Does 1986 Mean Anything to the Gang Of 8?

As the old saying goes, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In 1986, acting on the recommendation of a bipartisan task force, President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. With good intentions, the law originally granted amnesty for those who paid a fine, took a citizenship test, learned English, and avoided criminal convictions.  However, the Reagan Administration quickly learned that forged documents led to application numbers which far exceeded projections, and illegal immigration quickly returned to high levels.   Now, 27 years later, it appears that the Senate’s “Gang of 8” is determined to repeat history.

One of the biggest shams of the Gang of 8’s bill is the claim that before amnesty is granted, back taxes must be paid. Interestingly, before the bill was printed, the term “back taxes” was removed from it, and does not address federal payroll taxes or state taxes.  Instead the bill requires illegal immigrants to pay only for taxes the IRS already has assessed they owe at the time they apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status.  Therefore, for those filing taxes with the federal government under false Social Security numbers or working off the books, the IRS would report no taxes are due. The bill doesn’t even require applicants to submit tax-specific information such as wages earned or employment history. As Gang of 8-member Arizona Senator Jeff Flake told Politico, “We’ll leave [the back-taxes question] up to the IRS to figure how we do it.”  Is that statement supposed to be comforting to conservatives?

This week on Mike Gallagher’s radio show, Senator Marco Rubio admitted that “[t]he bill that’s in place right now probably can’t pass the house. It will have to be adjusted, because people are very suspicious about the willingness of the government to enforce the laws now.”  He’s right.  The legislation requires workers to loosely demonstrate they were in the country before 2012, pass a minimal background check, and pay a tiny $500 fine to quickly be on the path to being issued real Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, and the ability to work anywhere in the country.  Ten years after that, even if they have a limited criminal record, they will automatically be offered green cards. 

Conservatives in the House should start with a clean slate, and focus on protecting our borders first. This includes completing the long-overdue fence along the southern border.  As Congress avoids making the tough decisions, there appears to be little that can be done about the 11 million illegal immigrants who broke our laws.  Mass deportation is apparently impossible, so we must find ways to normalize their legal status for law enforcement purposes, while making it impossible for them to receive federal benefits or be put on a path to citizenship.  Instead of rewarding those who break our laws, we should ensure that those who wait in line for a chance at the American dream should be treated fairly, with streamlined immigration services and temporary work-visa programs.

The Senate legislation’s weak enforcement mechanisms are toothless and deceptive. The IRS has incredibly strong enforcement mechanisms to squeeze back taxes out of average American citizens, but they are ill-equipped to collect details of millions of immigrants with false identities.  Instead of punting serious details to the IRS, this bill must be reconsidered and rewritten. Congress must handle this national security threat without delay and do it with 1986 in mind.


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