“It is the sense of the Congress that the mission statement of the Immigration and Naturalization Service should include a statement that it is the responsibility of the Service to detect, apprehend, and remove those aliens unlawfully present in the United States, particularly those aliens involved in drug trafficking or other criminal activity.” ~Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, Pub. L. 104-208
The media wants us to continue being frogs in a slow-boiling pot of water and not to realize how much the political temperature has shifted on the issue of national sovereignty. But if we jump out of the water for a moment and explore relatively recent history on the issue, we will learn that protecting our border, building the wall, working with local law enforcement, expediting deportations, clamping down on visa overstays, and deporting criminal aliens were all consensus issues.
Several “conservative” commentators (see Jay Cost and Charlie Sykes) have lamented the fact that Republicans once fought government funding battles over fiscal restraint and are now doing so over immigration. They are bemoaning what is in their view a negative shift towards so-called nationalist priorities. But they are missing one major point, a point that reveals that it is in fact they and the Democrats who have shifted, not the rest of us. The reason there was a shutdown fight in 1996 over spending and welfare and not over immigration is because President Clinton agreed to sign the GOP’s toughest overhaul of illegal immigration law in a generation! There was no shutdown because Republicans got much of what they wanted. And they got what they wanted because Democrats, including Schumer and Pelosi, once believed in a modicum of sovereignty.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (“IIRIRA 96”), originally the “Immigration in the National Interest Act of 1995,” was signed into law by President Clinton on September 30, 1996, after the final conference bill passed the House 370-37 and the Senate by voice vote.
This bill essentially contained all the promises Trump has made, from the wall and clamping down on visa overstays to robust interior enforcement and expedited deportations, except that it was tailored for that time period. Many of the provisions failed because they were ignored by past presidents and state and local governments and twisted by the courts. This bill was designed to fulfill the wayward promise of the 1986 amnesty and to finally fulfill the pledge to protect Americans from the cost of illegal immigration. Those promises have not been met, and millions of illegals later, millions of pounds of drugs later, and trillions in costs later, these same politicians have no interest in rectifying the promise they helped break once again.
Unlike today, Republicans actually had a vision and a sense of purpose. One of their agenda items was to cut back on legal immigration, which was a failed promise of the 1990 bill. The other was to end illegal immigration – completely. It was the former goal that Democrats opposed, which is why Republicans originally attached their legal immigration cuts to the illegal immigration bill. Democrats gutted it. But they all broadly agreed on the goal of stopping illegal immigration. To be clear, Democrats insidiously weakened some provisions and only allowed for a ban on in-state tuition for illegals, not K-12 education per the original version of the bill, but they still all agreed on the core provisions of interior enforcement we are trying to implement today.
As the Washington Post explained at the time, “By shifting their focus to a crackdown on illegal aliens, the representatives seized an issue on which there is broad agreement but did little to lower the overall influx of immigrants, most of whom come to the United States legally” [emphasis added].
To punctuate this point, we must not forget that the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, which was signed just one month earlier and born out of the government shutdown the year before, explicitly barred illegal immigrants from accessing welfare. The bill contained language expressing the sentiment that it was a “compelling government interest to remove the incentive for illegal immigration provided by the availability of public benefits.” The bill used the word “alien” 93 times.
As I’ve lamented before, the courts and executive malfeasance have allowed the letter and spirit of the welfare law to be violated. But a number of Democrats voted for it at the time, and President Clinton signed it into law.
A similar dynamic happened with the IIRIRA, except that Pelosi and Schumer actually voted for that immigration enforcement bill. Among other things, the law accomplished the following:
The point is that anyone who voted for this bill 22 years ago should, by a factor of 10,000, support the reaffirmation and expansion of these provisions today, now that we see that the other two branches of government have evaded the provisions and also that the results of what Congress was trying to stop in ’96 are worse today. The law was just but never worked as intended because of executive laziness and malfeasance as well as judicial tyranny. If Schumer and Pelosi were good to their word, they would agree with all the tightening of the statutes Trump is calling for, because they are needed to preserve the promise of the bill they voted for.
While Democrats opposed the idea of slashing legal immigration and some grumbled about increasing deportability of certain crimes for legal immigrants, none of them had the temerity to (at least publicly) side with illegal immigrants. Clinton’s chief of staff, Leon Panetta, who would later become Obama’s secretary of Defense and CIA director, best summed up the Democrat view at the time, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. “We all understand the problem of illegal immigrants. We’re all trying to ensure that we have additional enforcement to protect against illegal immigrants,” he said. “But I, for the life of me, do not understand why we need to penalize legal immigrants in that process.”
This is why Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Steny Hoyer, and James Clyburn, Democrat leaders who were all in the House at the time, voted for the bill. Only 13 Democrats in the House voted no. In fact, more Republicans voted no because they were upset that the bill was gutted too much in conference and wasn’t strong enough.
What about the California delegation, including Dianne Feinstein, who is still serving?
Here is more from the October 1, 1996, article in the San Francisco Chronicle:
Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was generally pleased, saying “the rich tapestry of this country must continue to be woven by people who come to this country legally.”
“This is not a perfect bill, but its major thrust is stop illegal immigration and carried out and enforced I believe it can make a major step forward in that direction,” Feinstein said. But she said she was “disappointed” that the law did not increase the penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and that it did not have a more comprehensive verification system to identify illegal immigrants who try to work in the U.S.
Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., also welcomed the bill. “This bill recognizes that states like California which bear most of the burden of illegal immigration should not be left alone to deal with this national problem,” she said.
Even Nancy Pelosi, who was radicalized earlier than the others, still said on March 21, 1996, “I agree with my colleagues that we must curb illegal immigration responsibly and effectively.”
Thus, illegal immigration wasn’t even an issue, except for a few provisions. And in fact, Feinstein wanted to be even tougher on employer sanctions. Feinstein, along with Patrick Leahy and Patty Murray, actually voted for the original Senate bill before it was gutted in conference. Even the stronger bill passed with 72 votes in the Senate.
After decades of lies by people like Schumer, Pelosi, and Feinstein, Trump should deliver a televised address framing the entire immigration issue and showing how these people have failed on the promises he intends to deliver. Caring about Americans over illegal immigrants is not an ideal invented by Trump. It was once a universal value until the elites completely betrayed us.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.