Why Amnesty Isn't the Solution

US Amnesty Immigration

In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) giving amnesty — legal forgiveness — to all illegal aliens who had successfully evaded justice for four years or more or were illegally working in agriculture. As a result, 2.8 million illegal aliens were admitted as legal immigrants to the United States. In addition, they have so far brought in an additional 142,000 dependents.

Various Amnesties of Illegal Aliens

IRCA (including dependents) 2,831,351
NACARA 405,000
Haitian Act 50,000
INA Section 249 (from 1987-1997) 69,670
TOTAL 3,356,021

The amnesty permanently added millions of poor to our society.

An Immigration and Naturalization Service study found that after ten years in the United States, the average amnestied illegal alien had only a seventh grade education and an annual salary of less than $9,000 a year.1 Unlike immigrants with a sponsor who guarantees they will not become a burden on the public, when Congress enacts an amnesty, it makes the American public financially responsible for those amnestied.

The cost of amnesties to the American taxpayer is staggering.

According to a study by the Center for Immigration Studies, the total net cost of the IRCA amnesty (the direct and indirect costs of services and benefits to the ex-illegal aliens, minus their tax contributions) after ten years comes to over $78 billion.2

IRCA Amnesty Admissions : 1989 to 2001

  Resident Since 1982 Seasonal Agr. Workers Dependents Total
1989 478,814 478,814
1990 823,704 56,668 880,372
1991 214,003 909,159 1,123,162
1992 46,962 116,380 52,272 215,614
1993 18,717 5,561 55,344 79,622
1994 4,436 1,586 34,074 40,096
1995 3,124 1,143 277 4,544
1996 3,286 1,349 184 4,819
1997 1,439 1,109 2,548
1998 954 1 21 976
1999 4 4 8
2000 413 8 55 476
2001 263 37 300
Total 1,596,119 1,092,968 142,264 2,831,351

The Special Agricultural Workers (SAW) amnesty provision that gave legal residence to more than one million illegal aliens was especially marked by fraud. Because it was not necessary to show at least four years of residence in the country, this amnesty provision was especially attractive to recently arrived illegal residents. All they needed to qualify for the amnesty was a document saying they had worked for the specified number of days in harvesting crops, and those documents were easily forged. In an analysis of that program published in 1988, the authors wrote that the number of illegal workers in California who benefited from the SAW program was three times the number of the state's entire agricultural workforce during the period when they would have had to have been working there to qualify. 3

A similar analysis was expressed by social researchers writing on the historical pattern of Mexican migration to the United States. They wrote, "The special agricultural worker (SAW) program, in particular, was so loosely administered, so nebulous in its criteria for qualification, and so plagued with opportunities for fakery that it induced many Mexicans who had never worked in U.S. agriculture, or even been in the United States, to cross the border in hopes of being legalized through fraudulent means."4

Amnesty disguises the extent of illegal immigration.

Apologists for illegal immigration have actually had the nerve to claim that, because the number of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. today (between 8.7 and 11 million) is about the same as the number living here ten years ago, illegal immigration must not be that big of a problem. In doing so, they rely on the public's forgetting that, without the amnesty, there would be closer to 12 or 14 million illegal aliens in the country. It 's akin to pardoning and releasing everyone in prison, then claiming there is no crime problem because the prisons are empty.

An amnesty sends the message that it is okay to break the law.

An amnesty says that eventually you will be forgiven, even rewarded, for breaking the law. Furthermore, it makes a mockery of the legal immigration process, wherein those who obey the rules wait years to immigrate (instead of "jumping the line" and hoping for absolution later).

The amnesty of illegal aliens skews the average educational and skill level of legal immigrants downward.

As the ex-illegal aliens naturalize and become U.S. citizens, they are able to petition for their relatives to join them here as immigrants. Each one will be able to sponsor parents and brothers and sisters as immigrants. Naturally, the profile and characteristics of the relatives will be similar to their sponsoring immigrant—which, as was noted above, will detract from the high-skills, high-education, high-wage economy we are aiming for in the 21st century.

Amnesty has set a dangerous precedent.

The 1986 IRCA amnesty has created the atmosphere for illegal aliens' home governments to push our government toward another amnesty or other forms of legal "forgiveness. " Mexico's President Vicente Fox began in 2001 to push the United States to "regularize" the status of the estimated three to six million illegal aliens from Mexico in this country. Those who profit from illegal immigration have jumped on the bandwagon and political pressure is building to repeat what was billed in 1986 as the first and last amnesty for illegal aliens.

Amnesty threatens homeland security.

Aliens who apply in the home countries to become legal immigrants to the United States are screened by U.S. consular officials to weed out any criminals or likely terrorists. Millions of illegal aliens in the U.S. have evaded this screening; amnesty would make them legal aliens without the necessary safeguards to ensure that they are not dangers to our national security.


Updated 8/07




[1] Report on the Legalized Alien Population, Immigration and Naturalization Service, M-375, March 1992.

[2]Measuring the Fallout: The Cost of the IRCA Amnesty After 10 Years, Center for Immigration Studies, May 1997

[3] Martin, Philip L., J. Edward Taylor, and P. Hardiman, "California Farmworkers and the SAW Legalization Program." California Agriculture, 1988.

[4] Massey, Douglas S., Jorge Durand, and Nolan J. Malone, Beyond Smoke and Mirrors, Russell Sage Foundation, 2002.