View From Lodi, CA: Reagan—The Welfare/ Immigration Paradox. [With JoeNote To Readers!]

In Hollywood, everyone called
Ronald Reagan “Ronnie.”

According to Bette Davis, in a

May 22, 1986
guest appearance on The Tonight Show
with Johnny Carson
, his

peers were not surprised when Reagan was
elected California governor in 1966 and, fourteen years
later, United States president.

Like other Reagan admirers, I have read thousands of
words about him this week.

But not one article mentioned the
strange disconnect between Reagan, the California
governor, and President Reagan, regarding the pitfalls
of welfare.

As governor, Reagan identified and
disapproved of welfare as a long-term crutch.

Yet Reagan as president ignored the
inevitability of

heavy welfare use
by 3 million aliens legalized when
he signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986

Reforming welfare in California had
been a long-standing pledge of Reagan`s. When first
elected governor, he was specifically alarmed by the
costly Aid to Families with Dependant Children (AFDC)
program. The AFDC caseload had increased nearly five
fold from 375,000 cases in 1963 to 1.6 million in 1970.

By 1970, nearly one of every 13
Californians was collecting AFDC. The number of AFDC
recipients increased by 40,000 every month.

In a December 16, 1970 interview
with California Journal, Reagan said:

big villain that has kept virtually all of our savings
from being returned to the people in reduced cost of
government is the thirty-five year heritage of welfare
programs that are out of control. We find ourselves in a
position of cutting back on the types of things people
should ask of government—parks and everything
else—actually cutting those to feed this welfare

Fearing that welfare would bust the
budget, Reagan acted quickly by calling for 70
legislative and administrative changes. Through
compromise with the Democratic-controlled legislature,
the California Welfare Reform Act of 1971 was passed.

Although Reagan was frequently
accused of being insensitive to the poor, the most needy
California families received increases in their monthly
stipends. Those who had been bilking the system were
booted off.

By the time Reagan was elected to his second
presidential term 1984, he had an expansive concept of America`s role in the world.

Basking in America`s triumph over
Communism, Reagan backed the 1986 amnesty.

In debates leading up to IRCA, a
significant minority in Congress questioned what the
cost of legalizing such a large number of aliens would
be. Their low levels of education, limited English
ability and modest job skills presented major hurdles to
economic independence.

As it developed, according to a
report published by the Center for Immigration Studies
and titled “Measuring
the Fallout: the Cost of IRCA Amnesty after Ten Years
the Congressional minority was correct. Local and state
governments were saddled with high welfare costs.

Ironically, California—where Reagan
had vigorously opposed welfare— was one of the hardest
hit. Nearly 53 percent of all legalized aliens and their
growing families resided in California.

Fortunately for the states, buried
in the IRCA fine print was the State Legalization Impact
Assistance Grants (SLIAG) program that reimbursed state
and local governments for a portion of their public
assistance costs.

But, SLIAG paid out only a small
percentage of the financial needs of the highly
dependent population. Annual federal contributions for
each eligible alien under SLIAG worked out to $167 a
year — about 4 percent of the cost of educating just one
alien child for one year in the public school system.

Through the first ten years
after IRCA, federal, state and local assistance programs
paid out $102.1 billion costs for 20 different public
assistance programs used. Those expenses were only
partially offset by total taxes generated of $78

The ten-year net fiscal
deficit for newly legalized aliens was $24 billion in
direct costs alone.

Although Reagan espoused
smaller government throughout his two terms, his
administration failed to accurately calculate the
welfare costs related to IRCA.

But the financial burden was
not Reagan`s biggest error in judgment. Reagan
idealistically assumed that the new prospective citizens
would be anxious to assimilate into the America that he
so loved.

Sadly, Reagan was wrong.

As part of the green card
acquisition process, the federal government mandated
that all amnesty applicants spend 40 hours in English
language, history and civics instruction.


Lodi Adult School,
where I teach, offered those
classes. While some students were eager to blend into
the American fabric, most were not.

I was disappointed that upon
completion of the minimum 40 classroom hours, almost all
the students to whom Reagan had given the priceless
opportunity of becoming American citizens closed their
notebooks and walked out of the school.

And, although they had so
much more to learn, they never came back.

Reagan was a true American
patriot. And I consider him one of the great presidents
of the 20th Century. But he was wrong on
amnesty—both on its costs and its results.

Today, the number of aliens
is four fold what it was in 1986. And the US is
grappling with the prospect of another amnesty—in large
part because of the example set by Reagan.

JOENOTE to readers:

note that this

analysis of IRCA
posted by immigration lawyer Greg Siskind [
him] on his firm`s site
winks at the idea of continued (and
profitable for him) illegal immigration.

"From an immigration point of
view, Reagan will best be remembered for signing the
Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (`IRCA`).
IRCA was a contradiction of idealism and pragmatism, as
was the case with the President who signed the bill into
law. It took the pragmatic view that the while the
government frowned on illegal immigration, we could
provide an amnesty to help normalize the lives of
millions of American residents. Indeed, millions of
American citizens were legalized under the program and
owe a thanks to the President for proposing what was
then a very controversial plan.

 “IRCA also provided
hardliners with something they too sought—the
deputization of millions of American employers to assist
the then Immigration and Naturalization Service. IRCA
created the I-9 forms that every employer must check to
ensure that an employee is authorized to work in the US.

“The theory of IRCA was that
by legalizing the country`s undocumented population and
then creating a stronger enforcement system, we would
end illegal immigration. That was, of course, a naïve
proposition. Market forces would soon come into play and
the flow of illegal immigrants has only intensified over
the last 18 years.

[JG: my italics]
That has brought us to the current debate over what to
do about our immigration system and the debate continues
on whether we need a more open system where employers
can simply petition to bring over an immigrant worker
when it can show that Americans are not available to do
the work at an acceptable salary.

“However one feels about
immigration, Ronald Reagan deserves at least some credit
for trying to address an issue that has been
controversial since the country`s founding. He attempted
to craft a compromise and cashed in his `political
chips` to get the bill passed. Other Presidents have
only offered rhetoric and hoped the immigration debate
would not get too fierce. Whether IRCA was ultimately
helpful or harmful is certainly subject to argument, but
no one can say Reagan shirked his responsibilities to
try and improve the system.

“Finally, as always, we
remind readers that we`re lawyers who make our living
representing immigration clients and employers seeking
to comply with immigration laws. We would love to
discuss becoming your law firm. Just go to

to request an appointment or
call us at 800-748-3819 or 901-682-6455.”

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the

Lodi News-Sentinel