Last Friday, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly asked former Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) what she would do about immigration if she ever became “President Palin.” Palin informed O’Reilly that she would do “whatever it takes” to secure the border, including “militarizing” the border with 10,000-15,000 National Guard troops and building a wall. However, Palin seemed less confident about what to do about the millions of undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. She proposed requiring undocumented immigrations to register with the federal government in order to legally work in the United States — a step that would actually be part of comprehensive immigration reform:
O’REILLY: Now we have 12 million people staring at you. [...] Are you going to deport them, what are you going to do? [...]
PALIN: You’re not gonna give them a free pass. You’re not gonna say, ‘okay you and anyone else who wants scurry across this porous border between now and when we do finally get it fenced in and physically secured — we’re gonna give you a free pass.’
O’REILLY: So no amnesty?
PALIN: No amnesty! [...] Do we make them register with the federal government? Yes! [...] Let’s keep it simple and let’s say ‘no, if you were here illegally and if you don’t follow the steps that at some point through immigration reform we’re gonna be able to provide — and that is somehow to allow you to work — if you don’t do that, then you’re gonna be gone.’
Proponents of immigration reform acknowledge that we need to meet clear and concrete benchmarks before we can finally ensure that America’s borders are secure and effectively deal with the millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States. These benchmarks must be met before action can be taken to adjust the status of people already in the United States illegally…this proposal not only includes well-designed statutory provisions that will strengthen future enforcement, but also includes a broad-based registration program that requires all illegal immigrants living in the U.S. to come forward to register, be screened, and, if eligible, complete other requirements to earn legal status, including paying taxes.
Ultimately, Palin’s responses to O’Reilly’s probing questions were fuzzy at best. Palin went back and forth between agreeing to give undocumented immigrants green cards because “there has to be that expectation that they will work” and saying American citizens need to be the ones with the “first shot” at jobs. Palin also reminded O’Reilly of how her “great political hero” Ronald Reagan signed off on legalizing 3 million undocumented immigrants in 1986. When O’Reilly pointed out that he “botched it,” Palin immediately backed away saying, “Exactly! We learn from history.”
The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) that Reagan signed off on failed to put an end to illegal immigration because it didn’t create a flexible policy to deal with the future flow of immigration or sufficiently deter employers from hiring undocumented labor. However, there are also some lessons to be learned from IRCA’s legalization program. “Even though IRCA was implemented during an economic recession characterized by high unemployment, it still helped raise wages and spurred increases in educational, home, and small-business investments by newly legalized immigrants,” asserted the Center for American Progress in a report that was released earlier this year. “Taking the experience of IRCA as a starting point, we estimate that comprehensive immigration reform would yield at least $1.5 trillion in cumulative U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years.”