Recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which has, in five years’ time, allowed around 800,000 illegal youths to live and work in the United States without ever going through an application process to actually become American citizens. It was a program that President Trump once promised — only to cancel—which had infuriated Democrats as much as anything.
It was never intended to be a permanent solution and President Barack Obama said so, even as he himself was operating outside the Constitution in making his own law, rather than following it.
Still, President Trump had been bombarded on many sides for his decision, until now apparently reversing it. And, as critics continue to assault that original decision, they have picked up a new-old tactic: attack the present by hijacking the past. It’s the classic Orwellian cliché, of rewriting the past to control the future. It’s irresponsible.
This time — and not for the first time — the Left once again is invoking conservative icon and hero Ronald Reagan.
Recently, Michael Reagan tweeted that his father “would not kick the dreamers out of the US. He would find a way to work with Congress and lead.” Maybe. There are those who worked closely with the Gipper who say otherwise. On the other side now is immigration reform activist, liberal businesswoman, and widow of Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs.
Her company, Emerson Collective, has a new television spot that selectively uses Ronald Reagan’s farewell address, “If there had to be city walls, the walls had doors,” Reagan says in his final address as the president of the United States. “And the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”
It’s an effective ad that plays at the hearts of conservatives. Unfortunately for Laurene, it’s not quite as cut and dry as she thinks. DACA did not even exist when Reagan was president and it is a canard to suggest otherwise. Put illegals ahead of legal Americans? Reagan would have gagged at something less than fair play. Do we need another shallow rich liberal deliberately rewriting American history?
Everything that Ronald Reagan did was set against the backdrop of the Cold War. By the 1980s, the Soviet Union, specifically, and communism, generally, had been mortal enemies of the United States for nearly 40 years. People born during the Cold War were well into adulthood by the Reagan administration, and for their entire lives, communism was the threat.
It was an entirely different time when an Evil Empire was willing to kill millions in order to achieve world control. That was Reagan’s context. Where the threat of communism was rampant, from Central and South America’s Nicaragua or Panama, to all of Eastern Europe, Reagan opened his rhetoric.
It was 1986 when immigration became an issue at the forefront for the United States, when President Reagan signed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. The Cold War was at its peak. He noted that the legislation was not for the sake of votes, or the sake of appeasement. It was for American security.
“Future generations of Americans will be thankful for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people, American citizenship,” he said. Note also that this action was not blanket amnesty. While it offered citizenship to many illegal immigrants, it banned employers from hiring illegal immigrants – a major issue in today’s immigration debate – and set to enforce tighter immigration laws.
In fact, the amnesty portion of the bill, according to Reagan’s attorney general, Ed Meese, was a large thorn in the president’s side.
“There was extensive document fraud and the number of people applying for amnesty far exceeded projections. And there was a failure of political will to enforce new laws against employers. After a brief slowdown, illegal immigration returned to high levels and continued unabated, forming the nucleus of today’s large population of illegal aliens,” Meese wrote in Human Events.
Also, the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act contained heavy penalties and parameters for these illegals to become American citizens, but they were never enforced by the succeeding Bush administration. Again, it must be emphasized that this Act was in the context of the Cold War. The mid-’80s were highly sensitive and tense years for USSR-USA relations; to throw out the illegal immigrants would have immediately been called out by Moscow. “Why are you telling us to free Eastern Europe,” Mikhail Gorbachev and his ilk would’ve accused, “when you throw out people in your own country?” It’s a fair point.
All this being said, Reagan was not what liberals may want — a blanket supporter of illegal immigration. He said in a 1980 GOP debate with George Bush that he opposed illegals just walking into the United States. Reagan said they must “come here legally…pay taxes” (neither of which the illegals have done). He was hardline on the position, even as Ambassador Bush was not, supporting illegal children attending Houston’s public schools, even as Reagan never addressed the issue, choosing instead to focus on fixing Mexico’s rampant corruption.
Granted, Reagan did say during the October 1984 presidential debate with Walter Mondale that he believed “in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.” On Reagan’s mind were the tens of thousands of people fleeing communism oppression in Cuba and Nicaragua. Political refugees, not economic refugees.
That was consistent with his philosophy of individual freedom and liberty. However, and it’s a big wrench in the argument, Reagan was for maximum control of the borders. Employers, in his words during the debate, “encouraged the illegal entry into this country … [and] hire them at starvation wages.”
That was the main focus: not only the protection of the exploited, but the protection of American consumers and the economy. This is why he wanted “to join in again when Congress is back at it to get an immigration bill that will give us, once again, control of our borders.” To control the borders was his priority.
In short, just because Reagan was pro-legal immigrant and pro-liberty does not mean he would be pro-DACA. To be pro-legal immigrant does not immediately make one pro-DACA, and it is nothing more than a lie to suggest otherwise. Besides, the immigrants of nearly 40 years ago were different than they are today. Then, they wanted to join American culture, not topple it, as many now are militantly anti-American, lawless, and closer to Antifa than to Apple Pie. Indeed, one-third of DACA takers have committed crimes here in America.
Would Ronald Reagan have supported DACA? Reagan respected the rule of law and the Constitution. The complications of an executive leader effectively inventing legislatively law aside, it’s hard to say. It’s hard to say what a man — whose policies were defined by a very specific time and a very specific context of relations — would say.
In the end, it’s an exercise in the reckless hypothetical, in which the only person who can definitely answer is the man himself. But the evidence is clear Reagan would have put legal Americans ahead of illegal aliens.
Ronald Reagan was pro-individuality. He was also pro-American exceptionalism, and took issue on any threat against that. He was for American security and for the US Constitution, as it is proudly displayed on the wall at the Reagan Library. Would this have included 800,000 illegal immigrants? Doubtful. What we do know is that those who paint Ronald Reagan as a pro-amnesty hero are engaging in Orwellian rewriting of history.
It is irresponsible.
Craig Shirley has been hailed from many quarters as one of the leading Reagan biographers, having written four books and hundreds of articles and given hundreds of lectures about the Gipper. He is the Visiting Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, a member of the board of governors of the Reagan Ranch, and a frequent lecturer at the Reagan Library.