Lessons from the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986

Betsy Cooper and Kevin O’Neil
Date of Publication: 
August, 2005
Source Organization: 
Migration Policy Institute

The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was the first legislative attempt to address comprehensively unauthorized immigration. The bill included sanctions against employers for the hiring of undocumented migrants, more robust border enforcement and an expansive legalization program that was unprecedented. 

However, there were a number of problems with its design and implementation in each of its goals: employer accountability, broader enforcement that prevented illegal entries and legalization of a large population of unauthorized migrants. 

While the context of American immigration has changed since 1986, the incentives for immigration to the U.S. remain the same. Thus, many lessons from the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act remain powerful in today's environment.

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Cooper, Betsy and Kevin O’Neil. (2005). Lessons from the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Migration Policy Institute Policy Brief, August 2005, No. 3. Retrieved from https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/lessons-immigration-reform-and-control-act-1986