Every time that immigration reform has come under discussion in the past almost thirty years, virtually the only issue that has received serious consideration has been an illusory "trade-off" between "legalization" for "undocumented" immigrants (to use the terminology of the pro-immigration side), a/k/a "amnesty " for "illegal" immigrants (to use the terminology of immigration opponents), on the one hand, versus more border and internal immigration "enforcement" (i.e. more fences, immigration jails, deportations and employer harassment) on the other.
The same is true now. The debate over how what kind of legalization should be granted to 11 million people in this country without legal permission, what conditions should be attached, how long it should take and whether it should be "balanced" by more, fences, drones, border guards, prisons, expulsions, family breakup, employer fines and all the other indicia of a police state in order to discourage more brown people from coming or staying here, or to stop them from voting in elections if allowed to stay here forever in some sort of "provisional" status, has shoved almost all other immigration issues to the side, except for, possibly, letting in a few more people with "STEM" (high-tech) skills and some low income farm workers.
But no one who knows anything about immigration would think that the above is all there is to the idea of "reform". To the contrary, politicians on both sides of the issue are unanimous in saying that the current immigration system is "broken", even though they mean quite different things - with one side defining "broken" as meaning that it is too hard for foreign citizens to get into this country and stay here legally, and the other side defining the same word as meaning that it is too easy to do the same thing.
The only attempt in the past 30 years, or indeed the past almost half century since 1965, to put through a more "comprehensive" immigration "reform", one that dealt primarily with issues other than granting relief to unauthorized immigrants, was in the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act ("IIRIRA"). This law made some major changes in the immigration system, such as introducing the 3 and 10 year bars for "unlawful presence" and expanding the definition of "aggravated felony" in order to make it easier to kick out people who had been living in the US as lawful permanent residents for many years but who had become involved in minor crimes for which most American citizens normally receive only a slap on the wrist, or no penalty at all.
But as the above indicates, IIRIRA, while arguably "comprehensive" was certainly not "reform". To the contrary, it was retrogression, or reaction, based on a widely trumpeted "backlash" against the "browning of America" which had allegedly taken place in the three decades since the abolition of racially discriminatory quotas in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which was the only genuine comprehensive immigration reform that has taken place in any of our lifetimes, or, arguably, in the entire time since the turn of the 20th century. I say this because racist anti-immigrant measures such as the Chinese exclusion laws and the Immigration Act of 1924 cannot possibly be called "reform" by any except the most bigoted.
IIRIRA, it will be remembered, was not enacted on the basis of the open discussion and debate which almost everyone on both sides agrees is a welcome feature of the current conversation about reform. Instead, IIRIRA was rushed through Congress in the dead of night at the end of September, 1996 and was attached to a veto-proof military appropriations bill which President Bill Clinton, arguably, had to sign in view of the coming presidential election only slightly over a month away.
Therefore, any real immigration reform should begin by abolishing the worst features of IIRIRA, including but by no means limited to the two mentioned above, whose only purpose was to try to delay the inevitable ethnic change in America which, for example, the writer (and immigrant) Peter Brimelow had railed against in his notorious but influential 1995 best-selling white supremacist tract: Alien Nation.
Indeed, real immigration reform should begin at an even more fundamental level, by, for example, doing away with outmoded concepts such as the distinction between "immigrant intent" and "non-immigrant intent" which have no place in our 21st-century globalized planet. Real reform would also begin by abolishing the hostile and pejorative term "alien", which also has no place in today's modern, hopefully more tolerant, world, if indeed it ever did. To be continued.
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.