Lessons From The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was the first legislative attempt to comprehensively address the issue of unauthorized immigration. The bill included sanctions against employers for the hiring of undocumented migrants, more robust border enforcement, and an expansive legalization program that was unprecedented.
IRCA resulted from a number of political compromises, and balanced the need for stronger immigration enforcement with legalization of a large portion of the unauthorized population. Although the concepts behind the legislation were sound, there were a number of problems with its design and implementation in each of its major goals: employer accountability, broader enforcement that prevented illegal entries, and legalization of a large population of unauthorized migrants.
While the context of American immigration has changed substantially since 1986, the incentives for immigration to the United States remain the same. Thus, many lessons from the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act remain powerful in today’s environment.