"A bad sequel" is how American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz described President Obama’s proposal to grant amnesty to people who are in the United States illegally.
"Whether it’s called ‘Pathway to Citizenship’ or some other euphemism, it’s still amnesty," Koutz said. "It didn’t work when President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, and it will be even more disastrous if we repeat that mistake again."
Reagan’s attorney general, Ed Meese, has since repudiated the 1986 amnesty. "After a six-month slowdown that followed the passage of the legislation, illegal immigration returned to normal levels and continued unabated," Meese wrote in a 2006 New York Times op-ed. "Ultimately, some 2.7 million people were granted amnesty, and many who were not (granted amnesty) stayed anyway, forming the nucleus of today’s unauthorized population."
The American Legion foresaw of the consequences back in 1986. "Amnesty can serve only to attract future illegal aliens who would also be provided the opportunity for permanent resident status," said Dale L. Renaud, American Legion national commander at the time.
There is an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, and the Center for Immigration Studies estimated that the total net cost of the 1986 amnesty amounted to more than $78 billion in the 10 years following the amnesty.
"As far as The American Legion is concerned, amnesty is a deal-breaker for us but there are some measures currently being proposed that we like," Koutz said. "These include tightening security at the borders, crackdowns on those who hire illegal workers and stricter visa procedures.
"The American Legion is not opposed to immigration; we are a nation that was built by immigrants. But we also believe in adherence to the law. What kind of message does it send to those who worked hard to become legal immigrants if we offer the same status to those who disrespected the process? ‘American citizen’ is a special title that should not be bestowed upon people who broke the law to get it."
Koutz believes thorough background screenings should be essential before the U.S. government allows any foreign national to enter U.S. territory. "Public safety and national security is job one for our government to address."
Koutz said the Legion looks forward to sharing its views with Congress and the White House.
"The consequences wrought by the Immigration Reform and Control Act bring to mind the words of George Santayana, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,’" Koutz said. "Let’s not make the same mistakes again."
To read the Legion's most recent policy on immigration, passed during the 2012 National Convention, click here.