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Reagan's And Bush Senior's Tweaks On The 1986 Amnesty: Not Precedents For Obama
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November 19, 2014, 07:56 AM
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The open-borders/amnesty-uber-alles brigades launched a new bomb into the executive-amnesty debate late last week, but it turns out to be a damp squib.

Their claim amounts to 'Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush did executive amnesties, too, so nyaah, nyaah, nyaah!'  A good example is a November 15 article from Associated Press.  Here are its first three paragraphs:

President Barack Obama's anticipated order that would shield millions of immigrants now living illegally in the U.S. from deportation is not without precedent.

Two of the last three Republican presidents — Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — did the same thing in extending amnesty to family members who were not covered by the last major overhaul of immigration law in 1986.

There was no political explosion then comparable to the one Republicans are threatening now.

[Reagan, Bush also acted alone to shield immigrants, by Andrew Taylor]

I'd never heard of any such thing before, even though my head's been getting stuffed with facts about America's immigration madness for going on 17 years.  So do the nation-wreckers really have us on the ropes with this one?

Well, not to fear: Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, knows all about this obscure point, and in Obama's Unprecedented Amnesty (National Review Online, November 18, 2014) he pounced on the wreckers' claims.

(Krikorian is one of the shrewdest and most-encyclopedically-knowledgeable "elders" of our immigration-sanity tribe.  And luckily for the tribe, he's ten years younger than me!)

That Associated Press article quotes Mark Noferi, a pooh-bah at the American Immigration Council: "Bush Sr. went big at the time. He protected about 40 percent of the unauthorized population. Back then that was up to 1.5 million. Today that would be about 5 million."

"Up to 1.5 million."  That sounds like a lot — after all, 1986's "granddaddy" IRCA amnesty itself legalized "only" 2.7 million.  But of course "up to 1.5 million" also includes zero, and in the third paragraph of the following excerpt, Krikorian says that's closer to reality:

In what was a legitimate exercise of prosecutorial discretion shortly after passage of the 1986 law, INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service — PN] announced that as a practical matter it would look the other way under certain circumstances with regard to minor children both of whose parents received amnesty but who did not themselves qualify for the amnesty. It granted no work permits, Social Security numbers, or driver’s licenses. In the context of trying to implement the convoluted IRCA amnesty, I might well have done the same thing.

George H. W. Bush’s 1990 “family fairness” policy is at least somewhat germane, in that it provided for renewable “voluntary departure” (i.e., amnesty) for certain spouses and children of amnesty beneficiaries, including work authorization. But it is no precedent either, for three main reasons:

First, its size and scope. Despite claims at the time that “as many as 1.5 million” illegal aliens might benefit from the policy, the actual number was much, much smaller. In 1990, Congress passed legislation granting green cards to “legalization dependents” — in effect codifying the executive action Bush had taken [just a] few months earlier. That (lawful) measure actually cast the net wider than Bush’s action, and yet only about 140,000 people took advantage of it — less than one-tenth the number advocates claim. Scale matters here; Bush’s action cannot meaningfully be described as a precedent for Obama’s scheme that would be 30 or 40 times larger.

[Link in original]

So compared to what Obama is threatening to pull off, those executive actions by the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations were numerical trifles.

Krikorian goes on to make an important qualitative point:

Second, both Reagan’s and Bush’s moves were cleanup measures for the implementation of the once-in-history amnesty that was passed by Congress. In other words, it was a coda, a tying up of loose ends, for something that Congress had actually enacted, and thus arguably a legitimate part of executing the law — which is, after all, the function of the executive. Obama’s threatened move, on the other hand, is directly contrary to Congress’s decision not to pass an amnesty. In effect, Bush was saying “Congress has acted and I’m doing my best to implement its directives,” while Obama is saying “Congress has not done my bidding, so I’m going to implement my own directives.
Those interested in helping make the case for national survival under onslaught by the invading hordes should read the entire ~725-word article.  And there's additional useful background in a mid-August piece by Krikorian.