In their canonization of Ronald Reagan, conservatives have conveniently forgotten quite a bit. One of the biggest lapses in right-wing memory concerning Saint Ronnie is his stance on immigration.
In 1986, Reagan signed a sweeping immigration reform bill: the Immigration Reform and Control Act. He sold it with things conservatives love, calling it a crackdown, promising more and better border security and penalties for employers who hired illegal immigrants. But it also included an amnesty program. Oh, they didn’t call it that. They used “legalization” but it was amnesty and nearly 3 million people came forward to apply.
Six Reagan quotes conservatives want to forget.
6. Reagan on undocumented workers.
“When the Labor Department is forced to relent and let these visitors do this work it is of course all legal. But it makes one wonder about the illegal alien fuss. Are great numbers of our unemployed really victims of the illegal alien invasion or are those illegal tourists actually doing work our own people won’t do? One thing is certain in this hungry world; no regulation or law should be allowed if it results in crops rotting in the field for lack of harvesters.” – Nov. 29, 1977, radio address.
5. Reagan on securing the border.
“Some months before I declared, I asked for a meeting and crossed the border to meet with the president of Mexico. I did not go with a plan. I went, as I said in my announcement address, to ask him his ideas — how we could make the border something other than a locale for a nine-foot fence.” – December 1979 responding to conservative columnist Holmes Alexander.
4. Reagan on amnesty.
“I supported this bill. I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.” – Oct. 21, 1984 debate, on an immigration bill being considered in Congress.
3. Reagan on why we need an immigration bill.
“For one, we very much need in any immigration bill — we need protection for people who are in this country and who have not become citizens, for example, that they are protected and legitimized and given permanent residency here. And we want to see some things of that kind added to the immigration bill.” – Sept. 13, 1985, interview with the Spanish International Network.
2. Reagan on legalizing undocumented immigrants.
“We have consistently supported a legalization program which is both generous to the alien and fair to the countless thousands of people throughout the world who seek legally to come to America. 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.” – Nov. 6, 1986, signing statement for Immigration Reform and Control Act.
1. Reagan on legal entry of Mexican laborers.
“I believe we must resolve the problem at our southern border with full regard to the problems and needs of Mexico. I have suggested legalizing the entry of Mexican labor into this country on much the same basis you proposed, although I have not put it into the sense of restoring the bracero program.” – “Reagan: His Life in Letters,” page 511.
Reagan was many things, one of which was pragmatic. Today’s GOP doesn’t understand that. They don’t understand compromise or reaching across the aisle. Reagan did that. Yes, he had his faults — don’t get me started on how his policies killed my father-in-law — but he did work with Democrats and got things done. It would behoove this new Republican party to understand this and that they should emulate one of Saint Ronnie’s best traits.