Addressing the burgeoning problem of illegal immigration, Congress provided amnesty for certain long-term residents to gain legal permanent status, including through a special expedited process for farmworkers. Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), 2.7 million long-term residents received legal permanent status. In parallel, this law imposed more restrictions and regulatory provisions to improve enforcement of existing laws, including steady increases to immigration enforcement agencies and greater requirements for employers to check the work authorization of employees. To win business support for the law, Congress also expanded guestworker visa programs numerically and into new sectors of the workforce. Despite the INS’s growing budget and size of border authorities, illegal immigration has continued to grow.
Summary from Congress.gov
Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986
Title I: Control of Illegal Immigration – Part A: Employment – Amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to make it unlawful for a person or other entity to: (1) hire (including through subcontractors), recruit, or refer for a fee for U.S. employment any alien knowing that such person is unauthorized to work, or any person without verifying his or her work status; or (2) continue to employ an alien knowing of such person’s unauthorized work status . . . .
Establishes an employment verification system. Requires: (1) the employer to attest, on a form developed by the Attorney General, that the employee’s work status has been verified by examination of a passport, birth certificate, social security card, alien documentation papers, or other proof; (2) the worker to similarly attest that he or she is a U.S. citizen or national, or authorized alien; and (3) the employer to keep such records for three years in the case of referral or recruitment, or the later of three years or one year after employment termination in the case of hiring . . . .
Sets forth employer sanction provisions. Provides for a six-month period of public education during which no employment violation penalties shall be imposed . . . .
Makes it an unfair immigration-related employment practice for an employer of three or more persons to discriminate against any individual (other than an unauthorized alien) with respect to hiring, recruitment, firing, or referral for fee, because of such individual’s origin or citizenship (or intended citizenship) status . . . .
Part B: Improvement of Enforcement and Services – States that essential elements of the immigration control and reform program established by this Act are increased enforcement and administrative activities of the Border Patrol, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and other appropriate Federal agencies . . . .
Title II: Legalization – Directs the Attorney General to adjust to temporary resident status those aliens who: (1) apply within 18 months; (2) establish that they entered the United States before January 1, 1982, and have resided here continuously in an unlawful status (including Cuban/Haitian entrants) since such date; and (3) are otherwise admissible.
Authorizes similar status adjustment for specified aliens who entered legally as nonimmigrants but whose period of authorized stay ended before January 1, 1982. (States that in the case of exchange visitors the two-year foreign residence requirement must have been met or waived.) . . . .
Makes legalized aliens (other than Cuban/Haitian entrants) ineligible for Federal financial assistance, Medicaid (with certain exceptions), or food stamps for five years following a grant of temporary resident status and for five years following a grant of permanent resident status (permits aid to the aged, blind, or disabled) . . . .
Title III: Reform of Legal Immigration – Part A: Temporary Agricultural Workers – Separates temporary agricultural labor from other temporary labor for purposes of nonimmigrant (H-2A visa) worker provisions.
Requires an employer H-2A visa petition to certify that: (1) there are not enough local U.S. workers for the job; and (2) similarly employed U.S. workers’ wages and working conditions will not be adversely affected. Authorizes the Secretary of Labor to charge application fees . . . .
Establishes a special agricultural worker adjustment program. Provides for permanent resident adjustment for aliens who: (1) apply during a specified 18-month period; (2) have performed at least 90 man-days of seasonal agricultural work during the 12-month period ending May 1, 1986; and (3) are admissible as immigrants. Sets forth adjustment dates based upon periods of work performed in the United States. Authorizes travel and employment during such temporary residence period . . . .
New York Times Report
November 7, 1986
PRESIDENT SIGNS LANDMARK BILL ON IMMIGRATION
By ROBERT PEAR, Special to the New York Times
President Reagan today signed a landmark immigration bill that prohibits employers from hiring illegal aliens and offers legal status to many illegal aliens already in the United States.
In a brief ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, surrounded by Administration officials and members of Congress who were instrumental in passing the legislation, Mr. Reagan hailed the bill as ”the most comprehensive reform of our immigration laws since 1952.”
”Future generations of Americans will be thankful for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people, American citizenship,” the President added.
Reagan Has Some Reservations
Mr. Reagan issued an unusually detailed four-page statement listing his reservations about parts of the bill and his interpretation of key provisions, including one that outlaws job discrimination against legal aliens. He said he understood this provision to require proof that the employer had a ”discriminatory intent.”
The author of this section, Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in an interview that Mr. Reagan’s interpretation was ”intellectually dishonest, mean-spirited” and incorrect. ”A pattern or practice of discriminatory activity would violate the law even if you cannot prove an intent to discriminate,” Mr. Frank said. Under the new law, employers who hire illegal aliens will be subject to civil penalties of $250 to $10,000 for each such alien. Mr. Reagan described this provision as ”the keystone” of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. ”It will remove the incentive for illegal immigration by eliminating the job opportunities which draw illegal aliens here,” he said.
The new law offers legal status, or amnesty, to aliens who can show that they entered the United States before Jan. 1, 1982, and have resided here continuously ”in an unlawful status” since then. Aliens, such as foreign students or tourists, would generally be ineligible for the amnesty if they were in the United States legally for any portion of the time after Jan. 1, 1982.
Duane Austin, spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said the agency would start accepting applications from illegal aliens next May. It will set up 90 to 100 offices around the country to handle such applications, he said.
‘Headed Into Uncharted Waters’
Representative Charles E. Schumer, a Brooklyn Democrat who emerged as one of the bill’s staunchest supporters in Congress, said: ”The bill is a gamble, a riverboat gamble. There is no guarantee that employer sanctions will work or that amnesty will work. We are headed into uncharted waters.”
However, Mr. Schumer and others said the current situation was unacceptable. The Government caught 1.8 million illegal aliens in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, an increase of about 30 percent from the previous year. For every alien who is caught, officials say, several enter undetected.
There is no way to know how many illegal aliens are in the United States, how many are eligible for legal status or how many will apply. The Census Bureau estimates that there are three million to five million illegal aliens now in the country, but members of Congress often use higher estimates. Bill Seen as ‘Humane Approach’
Senator Alan K. Simpson, a Wyoming Republican who was the chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate, expressed confidence that most employers would comply voluntarily. ”I don’t know what the impact will be,” he said, ”but this is the humane approach to immigration reform.”
He and other lawmakers said they would closely monitor how the law was carried out by the immigration service and other Federal agencies. A coalition of national groups said they, too, would monitor enforcement. The coalition includes the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the National Council of La Raza, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union and the United States Catholic Conference.
With the President’s signing of the bill shortly after 10 A.M. today, it became unlawful for employers to hire illegal aliens. But the law says no penalties may be imposed for six months. In this time, the Justice Department will ”disseminate forms and information to employers,” as the law says.
Legislators in Mexico have said the new law will not stop illegal immigration and could endanger relations between their country and the United States. But Mr. Reagan said today that illegal immigration should not be seen as ”a problem between the United States and its neighbors,” adding, ”Our objective is only to establish a reasonable, fair, orderly and secure system of immigration into this country and not to discriminate in any way against particular nations or people.”
The major components of the bill, employer sanctions and amnesty, were proposed by President Carter in 1977 and again by Mr. Reagan in 1981. Similar bills were passed by the Senate in 1982 and 1983, but died amid political wrangling and well-organized lobbying by Hispanic groups, farm organizations and business groups.
Compromise on Farm Workers
Mr. Schumer broke a deadlock over the bill this year when he negotiated a compromise to assure farmers a steady supply of foreign workers while protecting the workers’ rights. The final version of the bill was approved last month in the House of Representatives by a vote of 238 to 173, and in the Senate by a vote of 63 to 24.
When the application period begins next May, illegal aliens will have one year in which to seek legal status. They would first become lawful temporary residents. After 18 months in that status, they could become permanent residents if they demonstrated a ”minimal understanding” of the English language and some knowledge of the history and government of the United States.
After five years as permanent residents, aliens may apply for United States citizenship.
The new law also includes these provisions:
* An employer who shows a ”pattern or practice” of hiring illegal aliens would be subject to criminal penalties, up to a $3,000 fine and six months’ imprisonment.
* For five years after gaining legal status, aliens would be ineligible for welfare, food stamps and most other Federal benefits. There would be some exceptions for the aged, blind and disabled and for pregnant women.
* The Federal Government will set aside $1 billion a year to reimburse state governments for the costs of providing public assistance, health care and education to illegal aliens who gain legal status.
Congress envisions a 50 percent increase in Border Patrol personnel, who now number 3,687. But there is no guarantee that Congress will provide money for the increase.