The difference is that President Reagan called this what it was: amnesty. Indeed, look up the term "amnesty" in Black's Law Dictionary, and you'll find it says, "the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act provided amnesty for undocumented aliens already in the country."
He remarked that President Reagan
In exchange for allowing aliens to stay, he(Reagan) decided, border security and enforcement of immigration laws would be greatly strengthened — in particular, through sanctions against employers who hired illegal immigrants. If jobs were the attraction for illegal immigrants, then cutting off that option was crucial.
Wow, 20 years later we’re still asking for this border security and law enforcement. I side with Meese, the points sound very familiar.
Note that this path to citizenship was not automatic. Indeed, the legislation stipulated several conditions: immigrants had to pay application fees, learn to speak English, understand American civics, pass a medical exam and register for military selective service. Those with convictions for a felony or three misdemeanors were ineligible. Sound familiar?
If border security and immigration laws passed in 1986, why are we trying to pass the damn thing again? How many times are we going to be passing this bill? In another 20 years is Congress going to revisit the bill again? In 1986, 2.7 million illegals got amnesty, the current bill might give 12 million illegals amnesty. How many in 2026? So why didn’t the 1986 act work?
There is a practical problem as well: the 1986 act did not solve our illegal immigration problem. From the start, there was widespread document fraud by applicants. Unsurprisingly, the number of people applying for amnesty far exceeded projections. And there proved to be a failure of political will in enforcing new laws against employers
The key phrase is “failure of political will in enforcing new laws”. Congress has never made a serious effort to enforce immigration laws and they sure aren’t intending to do it in the future. Meese concludes:
President Bush and Congress would do better to start with securing the border and strengthening enforcement of existing immigration laws.
The fair and sound policy is to give those who are here illegally the opportunity to correct their status by returning to their country of origin and getting in line with everyone else. This, along with serious enforcement and control of the illegal inflow at the border — a combination of incentives and disincentives — will significantly reduce over time our population of illegal immigrants.
The President and the Senate aren't learning from the failures of the past. I just hope the House will.