The 1986 Immigration Reform Explained

How the immigration reform bill in 1986 worked.

ByABC News
May 5, 2013, 3:17 PM

— -- The Senate is currently considering what some have called the largest immigration overhaul in the country's history, a bill that includes a path to citizenship for the country's undocumented immigrants.

As we debate immigration reform today, it's worth looking back to the last major legalization program in the U.S. Signed under President Ronald Reagan, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) gave a pathway to citizenship to 2.7 million undocumented people and penalized employers who knowingly hired those without a legal work permit. But its success was relative.

Many consider the plan a failure because it didn't achieve its primary purpose of stopping illegal immigration. The undocumented immigrant population has swelled from approximately one million in the 1970s to 11 million today. But for the millions of people who were legalized through the law, it was life changing.

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The new immigration reform bill, spearheaded by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the bipartisan group known as the "Gang of Eight," has similarities to the 1986 bill -- tougher border enforcement, a pathway to citizenship and visas for lesser-skilled workers.

But it will also try to make inroads where IRCA failed, by allowing more lesser-skilled immigrants to enter the country legally, and by tightening workplace immigration enforcement.

The video above is a quick and easy primer on the 1986 amnesty. It will also help you understand how we ended up in the current immigration situation.