What would Reagan do on immigration?
In a great article at the Wall Street Journal, Peter Robinson reminds conservatives and Republicans that Ronald Reagan welcomed immigrants, including illegals, to the United States:
In 1986, Reagan signed legislation granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens. Instead of denouncing the undocumented, Reagan invited them to become citizens. If Reagan was right then, isn’t Sen. McCain wrong now? To attempt an answer, I’ve listed what we know for certain about my old boss and immigration. Then I’ve done my best to figure out what each item tells us about where Reagan would have stood on the issue today.
What we know for certain, item one: Ronald Reagan was no kind of nativist. In a 1977 radio talk, for instance, Reagan dismissed “the illegal alien fuss,” arguing that we need immigrant labor. “One thing is certain in this hungry world,” he said. “No regulation or law should be allowed if it results in crops rotting in the fields for lack of harvesters.”
Reagan’s attitude toward the growing Hispanic influence in American life? When announcing his bid for the White House in 1979 he asserted plainly, “I favor statehood for Puerto Rico”—scarcely the position of an Anglo chauvinist. And Reagan again and again declared that a basic, even radical, openness to immigration represents a defining aspect of our national identity. Describing America as “a shining city” in his 1989 farewell address, for example, he said, “[a]nd if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
What item one tells us, I believe, is that Reagan would have inclined toward reforms like those President George W. Bush proposed in 2006. Under these proposals, illegal immigrants who wished to remain in this country permanently would have received a long but explicit path to citizenship. Those who wished instead to return eventually to their countries of origin would have received the right to register as guest workers. Virtually all illegal immigrants would thus have been dealt with generously. Reagan would have found such a resolution satisfying.
That’s hardly the nativism we often hear out of the conservative movement and the Republican Party today.
One of the many reasons that immigration is such a “problem” is because conservatives want to build a wall on the border, which won’t work, and do nothing in actually reforming our immigration laws. Many come over illegally because the process of gaining either a visa or citizenship takes so long.
Building a wall and/or asking brown people for their papers is not immigration reform.