Last week, GOP pundit Karl Rove wrote in The Wall Street Journal in support of the current Senate immigration bill, arguing it was much tougher on illegal immigrants than the 1986 law that granted amnesty to the three million illegals. Rove wrote that the ’86 law “essentially told those here illegally that if they had arrived in the U.S. prior to 1982 and wanted to become citizens, simply raise your right hand.” Ed Meese responded Friday that Rove’s description of the law was “way off the mark.”
In a letter published by the WSJ, Meese recalled that he was present in 1986 when the legislation was under consideration. He had examined the bill carefully at the time. He was, after all, US Attorney General then.
“The 1986 act didn’t turn illegal immigrants into citizens on the spot. It granted temporary resident status only to those who could prove they had resided continuously in America for five years,” Meese writes. “Advancement to citizenship was not automatic. Immigrants had to satisfy various requirements along the way. They 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.”
Meese goes on to note another similar, and troubling comparison between the current Senate bill and the 1986 Amnesty law. “The ’86 reform bill also had supposedly ‘rigorous’ border security and immigration law enforcement provisions. So how did that pan out?”
The 1986 law is a troubling parallel to today’s debate. That law was also intended to permanently “solve” the problem of illegal immigration. In granting three million illegals immigrants permanent legal status, the government also promised the public that it would secure the border and increase internal enforcement.
That, of course, didn’t happen. Instead, within two decades, the number of illegal immigrants in the country had more than tripled to 11 million. Without hard triggers for border security, is there any rational reason to think our experience will be any different today?
Meese writes, “Amnesty “bends” the rule of law. And bending the rule of law to reach a “comprehensive” deal winds up provoking wholesale breaking of the law. Ultimately, it encourages millions more to risk entering the country illegally in the hope that one day they, too, might receive amnesty.”
Rove is spearheading an effort to get the GOP behind the Senate immigration plan. Not really because of any particular provisions in the legislation, but rather a simple political ploy to allow the GOP to merely say they supported reform. It is a misguided pandering that will sow the seeds for another illegal immigration problem in the future.