Reflections on Restoring Integrity to the United States Immigration System: A Personal Vision
As the debate on how to better manage the United States’ immigration system unfolds, this policy brief examines and reflects upon lessons learned from the last major attempt to resolve the problem of illegal immigration under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). Arguing that stable reform will require three “E”s—enforcing immigration laws effectively, expanding visas, and earning legal status—the brief also offers recommendations for immigration policymaking and management.
The report finds that IRCA’s three-prong approach of creating a legalization process, establishing employment authorization, and strengthening border enforcement did little to control future illegal immigration flows. The author draws four key lessons from this fundamental failure of IRCA. First, new policies must incorporate the demand for work and family reunification visas. Second, legalization should be approached not as an amnesty program, but as an opportunity to address the underlying causes of unauthorized migration. Third, reducing incentives for fraud should be a top policy goal. Finally, lawmakers must recognize that migration cannot be managed unilaterally, and seek bilateral and multilateral cooperation with neighbors.
Successful immigration reform, according to the report, must reflect and anticipate realities in the U.S. labor market, migrant family ties, and the United States’ domestic and international obligations. Based on the concept of the three “E”s, the author calls for a credible strategy for broader and more systematic enforcement of immigration laws; an expansion of visas for workers in low-wage, low-value added economic sectors, as well as their family members; a fair and clear process for transitioning from temporary to permanent status; and a realistic security registration process for unauthorized immigrants in exchange for a tough but fair path to permanent residency.