What Rightwing Media Gets Wrong about the Reagan and Bush Immigration Orders

Republicans and right-wing media are in panic mode. They've spent weeks describing President Obama as an "emperor" or a "monarch" for using his executive authority to grant a reprieve to some undocumented immigrants -- and are now faced with evidence that Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush did the same thing.

They are trying, and failing, to claim that Reagan's and Bush's uses of executive authority on immigration were different than Obama's. Here is what they get wrong.

Congress Intentionally Omitted Children From Immigration Reform; Reagan and Bush Protected Them Anyway

In 1986, Reagan signed the last comprehensive immigration reform law to pass Congress. Although it gave up to 3 million unauthorized immigrants a path to legalization, the children and spouses of those eligible for "amnesty" still faced deportation. In 1987, Reagan used his executive authority to defer deportation for the children of legalizing immigrants, and in 1990, Bush expanded the reprieve to more children and spouses.

Republican commenters and right-wing media have tried to claim that -- in contrast with Obama -- Reagan and Bush were not going beyond Congress, but instead merely fixing an "unanticipated" gap in Congress' 1986 immigration law. David Frum at The Atlantic argues that Congress unintentionally omitted children and spouses from the law's coverage, and that Reagan's and Bush's executive actions merely "tidied up these anomalies." Mark Krikorian at the National Review claims that "Reagan’s and Bush’s moves were cleanup measures." The Heritage Foundation's Hans Van Spakovsky and John G. Malcolm argue that the Republican presidents were "carrying out the general intent of Congress."

They are wrong. Reagan and Bush used their executive authority to defer deportation for individuals that Congress had intentionally omitted from the 1986 immigration law.

“The law said nothing about legalizing children or spouses," the Chicago Tribune noted in 1990. "Although Congress considered including them, conservative groups who opposed letting more immigrants into the country derailed the idea.”

A 1987 memo from Reagan’s INS made clear that Congress did not intend to include the children protected by Reagan's executive action -- and that Reagan was taking action anyway.

Congress "did not intend to place all illegal aliens within a legal status," the Reagan INS memo said, noting that the 1986 bill was controversial and likely would not have passed if children and spouses had been included. "There is nothing in these documents that would indicate Congress wanted to provide immigration benefits to others who didn't meet the basic criteria, including families of legalized aliens," the memo said.

Although the Federalist Society claims that Reagan and Bush were "trying to implement Congress' will" -- and that "the progressive media's claims otherwise are blatant lies" -- documents from Reagan's INS shows that the Federalist Society and others on the right have it wrong.

"To the contrary," the Reagan INS memo noted, "the Senate Judiciary Comnittee stated in its report that: 'It is the intent of the Committee that the families of legalized aliens will obtain no special petitioning right by virtue of the legalization.'"

Despite the clear intent of Congress, the Reagan administration nonetheless declared it would exercise its "discretion by allowing minor children to remain in the United States even though they do not qualify on their own, but whose parents (or single parent in the case of divorce or death of spouse) have qualified" for legalization under the law.

In other words, Congress passed an immigration law that expressly excluded a large group of people from its protections -- and for reasons of fairness and family unity, Reagan and Bush chose to protect them anyway.

This is directly contrary to the assertions of the National Review, and the Heritage Foundation, and the Federalist Society, and David Frum, and undermines their primary argument for why Obama's use of his executive authority is distinguishable from similar executive actions by Reagan and Bush.

Bush and Obama Executive Actions "Strikingly Parallel"

Frum claims that, in contrast with Republican presidents, Obama is "acting on his own authority and in direct contravention of the wishes of Congress."

Yet the same could be said for the Republican presidents -- particularly President Bush.

In 1989, the Senate passed a bill to protect the same people covered by Reagan's executive order two years earlier -- children whose parents were both eligible for legalization -- as well as an even bigger group of immigrants, namely, children who only had one parent legalizing, and the spouses of immigrants eligible for legalization.

The House failed to act on the bill. So George H.W. Bush took executive action the next year, and administratively implemented the Senate bill's provisions himself.

Similarly, in 2013 the Senate passed an immigration reform bill, and House Speaker John Boehner declined to bring it to the floor (although the bill would likely pass if the House did vote). Obama's executive action implements the provisions of the Senate bill, although around twice as many people would be affected if the bill became law.

George H.W. Bush's executive action was expected to affect as many as 1.5 million people, which was over 40 percent of the undocumented population at the time. Similarly, the 5 million people likely affected by Obama's order is around 40 percent of today's undocumented population.

"Bush’s action was strikingly parallel to Obama’s in several respects," says Mark Noferi, a fellow with the American Immigration Council. "Bush took action that was large-scale, on a family-based matter of domestic policy (not foreign policy), and while the Senate had passed legislation but the House had not."

"Obama is acting similarly here," he said.


The significant difference is that prior Presidents acted in support of newly passed legislation...President Obama is acting, in his own words paraphrased, to bypass Congress for their failure to act....big, big difference and unconstitutional.

Did you read the article or just skip down to the comments? If you had read the post you would know you are parroting all the other voices who continue to bellow their ignorance of the subject.

You're absolutely sure it's unconstitutional? Like, as sure as you would be if you were a constitutional lawyer? Don't you think the President of the United States, who is a Constitutional lawyer, and has a staff of advisors working with him would know if he was acting in contrast to the constitution?

The statement said the Senate passed it and Boehner wouldn't bring it up for a vote. "Similarly, in 2013 the Senate passed an immigration reform bill, and House Speaker John Boehner declined to bring it to the floor (although the bill would likely pass if the House did vote). Obama's executive action implements the provisions of the Senate bill, although around twice as many people would be affected if the bill became law."

Did you even read the article, Win? It distinctly said they *both* acted to bypass Congress for their failure to include illegals they thought should have been included in direct contravention of the newly passed legislation--not in support of it. If anything were to be considered unconstitutional, that would be. Obama's act would have a similar effect to the bill that *would* most likely pass if Boehner would just bring it to the floor. SMH.

I have worked as Commercial Seafarer all my days until I retired, and I write these commentaries because I earned my benefits from the government and make no excuse in saying, why are we forever giving freebies to criminal illegal aliens and even our own ‘freeloaders’? These people are here to drain the welfare system, with their ‘Anchor Babies’ and utilizing the ‘Chain Migration’ laws to bring to America their poverty stricken families, when this previous administration don’t look after our own veterans, homeless and mentally disabled Americans. This President is no longer represents me, or an overwhelming number of citizens taxpayers and LEGAL residents. He has become a toxic element to the United States Constitution and him and his rebel troops of policial garbage including the main contenders Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Barbara Boxer. Other main contenders U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Architect of Obamacare Jonathan Gruber who on camera said the American people are “Stupid”. And I am inclined to agree with this assumption—that Me and You are STUPID, as we fell this for Ponzi Scam, including not as one nation speaking up against the criminal illegal alien invaders? In his six years of running this country, he is implicated in so many scandals along with the corruption from his top people. I am not going to list them, but there is so many and instead of representing the people, he is representing criminal foreigners and it’s a incorrigible outrage to hand over our less than secure Social Security cards, so they can—STEAL—jobs, from every American with an emphasis on Black Americans; Hispanic who entered America through the front door will also suffer owing to the infusion of cheap labor. Obama doesn’t appear to get the point that he must work with the Congress he has, not the government he wishes. But regardless of Congress and the American people’s resistance to his unilateral action—action the President himself once stated would ‘violate our laws’ and be ‘very difficult to defend legally’—this President people are seeing as a hard core Socialist has decisively to push on alone nevertheless again. As President Obama himself said, ‘there are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system’ This President is causing major unrest in American, especially amongst immigrants who have waited years to enter legally. They have paid their dues, so who are these criminal people who violated immigration laws to be given a ‘Free Pass”. This President is advised to listen to his own dialog from previous occasions. Our nation is a country of laws, and a Constitution that does not grant the President the power to authorize millions of illegal aliens by signing a document. In the eyes of millions of prudent Americans, he has taken the position of ‘KING” as resolute ruler as King John before he signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede, England. It’s like we have become surfs to be spied upon. Not only is this move wrong, but does entirely zero to resolve the underlying problems of our wide open border and immigration system that certain sections could be easily amended through the Congress? In fact, it may intensify the crisis as millions more are likely to storm the Southern border. Obamas deed is a key example of Washington distrust. He has responded to Congress and the public’s desire for positive change with an all-or-nothing approach that only damages the prospect of future cooperation. My guess their was some beneficial bill placed upon that old decrepit idiot Harry Reid’s desk that didn’t see the light of day that would have qualified for a vote. He did not even endeavor to start the New Year working with the Senate and House on the right foot. THERE WILL BE NO COMPROMISE, ON ANYTHING INCLUDING THE CRIMINAL INVADERS. The funding for this illegal action will be substantial, which will come to the American people in the form of taxes. As if we were not taxed enough now, and in a time we desperately need a consumption or fair tax. Not the current letting millions of people slip through by paying absolutely nothing? While House Republicans will still work to do a whole lot so to move the country forward, it is THE PEOPLES commitment and duty to fight this blatant power grab that doesn’t solve the real issues. Don’t sit still on this one outlandish problem fight back and hit the politicians like shrapnel telling your opposition to Obama’s plot to overload our country more with poverty and welfare recipients. Here are the numbers to call and lambaste them to sue Obama or even impeach him. Check this site that includes phone Numbers and Mailing Addresses of Members of Congress contact them at: www.contactingthecongress or direct line to central switchboard at 1-866-220-0044 or 1-800-224-3121.

Dave Francis, the only thing I can comment on is that you have been watching too much FOX TV and listening to too much Rush Limbaugh on the radio. Your words are typical Republican 'talking points' and obviously your opinion, but they are NOT FACTS. If you haven't noticed, ever since January 20, 2009 the Republican party has made sure to say NO to everything President Obama has suggested, even policies THEY once were for (political contribution disclosure, climate change policies, single payer healthcare for ALL Americans, support of the START treaty, etc...) but now are totally against. In all my years, I've NEVER seen such disrespect, contempt, outright LIES and ugly HATRED put towards one man. Either President Obama is too weak or he is a dictator. Every day there is another new 'scandal' another new 'conspiracy', another new overblown ridiculous LIE. Your party can't make up its mind anymore. Either work WITH the President or just keep saying NO to everything he supports. BUT you have to come up with your own solutions to problems without writing jobs bill that demand the building of the Keystone Pipeline in exchange for votes or trying to give individual states the wrong idea that they can override FEDERAL LAW For the sake of our country and us US CITIZENS STOP THE LIES AND HATE.

You can't be serious about "In all my years, I've NEVER seen such disrespect" unless you were born yesterday. While George W. Bush was President not a day went by that he wasn't disrespected by liberals/democrats. Most of his major accomplishments were hardly mentioned by the liberal media. The first time I heard Pres. Obama speak I was very moved by all he had to say. He sounded like a man who wanted to make this country a better place for all. Well turns out he has great speech writers, but that's it, that's all he has. He has openly lied to us, and his lies are ignored by the media. His oath of office says he is to protect our borders-he doesn't. Health care we can all afford. So many of the newly insured are on medicaid. Try and find good doctors that take medicaid. If your not on medicaid, you probably pay 20 to 25 thousand dollars a year for a family of 4 with a 5 to 10 thousand dollar co-pay. Who has that kind of money? Not the majority of us. Some of us wanted to just purchase catastrophic health care and just pay for office visits etc.. Not allowed under the Obamacare. He plays golf minutes after he announces the beheading of our citizens. His "friend" dies in Benghazi, and the next day he is off to Los Vegas. Where the heck was he during that time that his "friend" was being killed? No one seems to know. But the lies about that night and why action was not taken to help his friend is still not questioned by dems. Guess if its not your dad, son, daughter you really don't give a damn, much like Hillary. I respect people who are honest, caring people, not people who lie, get caught in those lies, and then lie to cover up those lies. Obama likes disrespecting Supreme Court Judges, police, our military, our congress, and even news media that don't worship him, so I think the disrespect goes both ways. I have never seen, in my life time. a more disrespectful president.