Back in the 1980s, the country faced a familiar dilemma to the one it faces today — the border was insecure and too many illegal immigrants had moved into the United States.
At the time, the proposed solution was a bill crafted by then Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and Kentucky Democratic Rep. Romano Mazzoli. Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, it instantly granted 3 million illegal immigrants legal status. Yet a little over 30 years later the problem has returned, with more than 11 million illegal immigrants now in the United States.
In a March 18, 1982 New York Times editorial headlined “Not Nativist, Not Racist, Not Mean,” the paper’s editorial board laid out arguments for the Simpson and Mazzoli effort:
As a general proposition, the Simpson-Mazzoli bill is at once tough, fair and humane. First, tough. The United States cannot conceivably let in all the worldwide millions who want in. That means controlling our own borders and that, in turn, means something called employer sanctions. Federal law must forbid hiring illegal immigrants and also provide employers with a way to identify who they are. The Simpson-Mazzoli bill would do both. Without being specific, it calls for the gradual development of a limited, reasonable process of identification.
Similarly, that Times editorial board is now arguing for the same exact thing 30 years later, despite clear evidence that the 1986 law failed to keep the “worldwide millions” out.
In a March 31 editorial — prior to the release of the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill — the Times called for an immigration plan that would expand efforts to crack down on “illegal hiring.”
A bill that cracks down on illegal hiring by expanding the E-Verify database should also include robust anti-discrimination provisions and protect privacy and whistle-blowers. But it must not demand border-sealing benchmarks, or “triggers,” as a condition for legalization.
The Times back in 1982 was also similarly concerned about illegal immigrants “living in the shadows.” There is one key difference between the two editorials — the Times was much more supportive and optimistic about the bipartisan efforts of Simpson-Mazzoli, whereas in an April 16, 2013 editorial, the editors were critical of the bipartisan efforts of the “Gang of Eight.”
March 18, 1982:
A large number of foreign migrants – maybe half a million, maybe two and a half million – have lived in this country for years, but under a cloud: they entered illegally. Fearful of detection, they are vulnerable to exploitation. Previous proposals for amnesty have failed as too harsh or too soft-headed. The new bill strikes a reasonable compromise, providing legal status to aliens if they have lived here since 1978.
Reasonable compromise may, indeed, be the key to the whole bill. Immigration involves an array of competing interests that conform to no party or ideological lines. Senator Simpson and Representative Mazzoli have balanced the ideas of the Administration and a blueribbon immigration commission; of labor, employers and minority groups; of different regions; of other countries. The resulting bill is a genuine political achievement, aligning Congress with the best, instead of the worst, in the American immigration tradition.
April 16, 2013:
While there is a lot to worry about, our quick read of a fresh bill finds other encouraging things besides the opening of the pathway. It includes a good version of the Dream Act, to help young people who were brought here illegally as children speedily become citizens. It allows, amazingly, some deportees to re-enter the country to join their spouses and young children.
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 will not win prizes for brevity or eloquence. But it exists; it is a starting point, something to be nurtured and improved. It will be judged by how it unlocks the potential of the immigration system, now choked by inefficiency and illegality, with companies that scoff at the law and employees who work outside it. The system has gears that fail to mesh — business with labor, parents with children, the promise of America with the people who would fulfill it. Time to start repairs.
(h/t A.J. Delgado, Mediaite)