Ronald Reagan and Immigration Reform

In recent days, we have seen countless tributes to our 40th President, Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 years old last week. Amid all the celebration, some commentators are wondering whether certain aspects of President Reagan’s legacy have been airbrushed – perhaps Photoshopped? – out of his present-day image. One commentator pointed out that President Reagan was actually a pragmatist and a moderate on immigration, compared to many in his own party today:

Reagan was never the immigration hawk Republicans make him out to be. He granted amnesty to 2.7 million immigrants when he signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. It took a Democrat, Obama, to reduce immigration rates, increase deportations and increase Border Patrol agents and funds.

(See Republicans, Be More like Reagan, by Joshua Stockley, Monroe (LA) News-Star blog, 06.Feb.2011.) Another commentator, writing in the left-leaning Huffington Post, quoted President Reagan’s statement during a signing ceremony for the immigration bill now known as IRCA, in front of the Statue of Liberty:

The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.

(See Remembering Ronald Reagan – The Man Not the Icon, by Terry Newell, Huffington Post, 06.Feb.2011.) Why bring this up? Because meaningful bipartisan compromise on immigration reform keeps getting hung up on the same issue: amnesty, either actual or perceived. For Democrats, some path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is a prerequisite for their support, in much the same way that tough enforcement provisions are a must for GOP support. The Dems have gotten tougher on enforcement, but there is yet to be a corresponding give-and-take from the GOP side. Perhaps, following Ronald Reagan’s lead, a few brave Republicans will sit down with the Democrats and try to find enough middle ground to pass the comprehensive reforms our immigration system still desperately needs.

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