Once and Future Immigration Reform — Part I

With the high decibel debate about immigration reform currently under way, the casual fan can be forgiven for thinking the issue is all new. But in 1986, the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), more colloquially called the Simpson-Mazzoli bill.

The issues debated at that time were similar to the ones being debated today. Former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson — the “Simpson” of Simpson-Mazzoli — talked with Colorado Confidential about what his experience in that debate might mean for the current controversy.‘For one thing,” Simpson says, “it didn’t work because we couldn’t leverage the more secure identifier.”

Simpson-Mazzoli proposed the use of a workplace identification card. They wanted something reliable and tamper-proof, using cards or biometrics, to be presented at the time of a “new hire” for employment or when applying for government benefits.

“As soon as we mentioned the ‘more secure identifier,'” Simpson says, “everybody ran to a marvelous chilling phrase called, ‘National ID.'”

Although Simpson was the Republican minority whip and is a conservative himself in the Wyoming tradition, he spreads his scathing criticism of these attacks across the political spectrum.

“We were attacked by the right-wing kook-os and the left-wing kook-os,” he says. “Grover Nordquist rose high in his tree. People called it a vestige of Nazi Germany. Ted Kennedy and I, and Peter Rodino and Ted Hesburgh, though, we weren’t a bunch of Commies and neanderthals.”

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, Democratic Congressman Peter Rodino of New Jersey, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee at the time, were all on the special commission along with Simpson appointed to study the issue. University of Notre Dame president Theodore Hesburgh was the chairman. Rodino died in 2005 at the age of 95. Rodino was generally considered a liberal and a champion of civil rights. Hesburgh was, among many accomplishments, a charter member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

“The identifier would maybe include the maiden name of that person’s mother,” Simpson says. “Everyone would have it, but it wouldn’t be carried on your person. It would be used by law enforcement. That was in our bill.

“But we couldn’t wade through the hysteria. Ed Roybal was a very tough adversary. He gave his Nazi Germany speech about tattoos. That was pretty much the end of it.” Roybal was a long-time Democratic Congressman from Los Angeles who died in 2005.

“Now when I look at the bills, all of them have a serious identifier, retina scans, electronic monitoring, just like at Disney World. If they get that in the system, it’s going to make a big difference.”

Part II of this three-part article will appear tomorrow.

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