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The Center for Immigration Studies published online for the first time an evaluation of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), the large-scale amnesty Congress passed in 1986. The publication contains a new foreword by one of the original authors that compares the IRCA amnesty to President Obama’s unilateral executive amnesties. The author, David North, suggests IRCA’s extensive fraud will repeat under Obama’s executive actions, especially since they do not incorporate IRCA’s minimal fraud protections.

The IRCA evaluation was commissioned and funded by the Ford Foundation. Published in 1989, it discussed how IRCA's legalization benefitted farm workers and the agricultural industry. Obama’s executive actions are less targeted except with respect to the benefits to Silicon Valley. Obama gives foreign students additional opportunities to stay and work after graduation at American colleges, and gives work permits to the spouses of H-1B visa holders.

Unlike Obama’s unilateral amnesties, IRCA passed Congress and was signed into law by President Reagan after much study and many congressional hearings. The president’s amnesties were developed behind closed doors with the help of lobbyists from illegal-alien advocacy groups and business groups.

IRCA tried to address expected fraud problem by requiring face-to-face interviews between illegal-alien applicants and federal officials. Even with the mandatory interviews, IRCA had a 25 percent fraud rate. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which began in 2012, does not require mandatory one-on-one interviews. That program will likely set the precedent for the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program, the details for which have not yet been made public. That means fraud rates could be much higher.

Regarding enforcement, North said the 1986 amnesty was supposed to be accompanied by a vigorous employer sanctions program and other enforcement. But Congress did not later pass and fund those measures. This allowed employers to keep hiring illegal aliens and enticed more illegal aliens to come to the United States.

On the subject of implementation, North wrote, “Unfortunately a lot of time has passed and few of the INS people who struggled with the IRCA amnesty are still working for the government. Since that is the case, I fear that the lessons of the IRCA experience are not likely to shape the next amnesty, which will be run by ideologues whose focus will be solely on rights of the aliens, and not on the broader needs of society.”

Read a summary comparison of the 1986 and executive amnesties, or view the original 1989 evaluation.

Updated: Wed, Mar 25th 2015 @ 6:40pm EDT