We all know the result of the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. Hordes of swarthy foreigners took advantage of Reagan's leniency and forever changed the demographic makeup of United States - to its detriment.
If one spends some time perusing this report a different picture appears with regard to the outcome of the amnesty program. The first thing that is noticeable is the relationship of applications to the upper boundary of the estimated illegal population. Only 60% of the (high) estimate of 5 million illegals (in '86) bothered to apply. Given that applications were not restricted to a limited window of opportunity it is reasonable to assume that the actual total number was much closer to the lower bound of 3 million. (The current upper bound would be about 9 million today per INS estimates.)
The second item of interest is the composition of the national origin of the 2.7 million applicants approved for LPR (legal permanent resident) status. Seventy-five per cent were born in Mexico. Somewhat unsurprising, but what is surprising is that in the end only 27% of the Mexican LPR's had chosen to become US citizens by 2001. To put that in perspective, during the years '89-'01 some 53 million citizens became eligible to vote for the first time, about 890 thousand of them became eligible due to IRCA and of those some 545 thousand were of Mexican descent.
The numbers involved do not suggest that an amnesty would be cause for great concern but they also suggest that a smarter solution might be an enlargement of the worker visa program that was not an actual path to citizenship. It would be interesting to see what would happen if a 10 year visa (renewable once) were offered. If it were coupled with a committment to stronger enforcement of existing laws it might well cure the problem forever. That means that Congress will never pass such a law. They are in the problem business - not the solution business.