More than 20 years after the immigration problem was supposedly solved, it's as big or bigger than ever.
A bipartisan group of congressional Democrats and Republicans reached agreement on a comprehensive immigration reform package. The president, eager to address a vexing issue, signed on to the plan.
Problem solved? Hardly.
It was November 1986. The legislation, which granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants and promised tough enforcement to prevent future illegal immigration, was the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. It was signed into law by President Reagan.
The legislation proved to be an abject failure. Illegal immigrants received their amnesty, but promises of strict enforcement to prevent the problem from recurring proved false.
That deception, of course, is why the problem of illegal immigration remains on the nation's radar screen and why another bipartisan group of legislators — eight U.S. senators — has proposed reform that includes another form of amnesty. It's called "probationary legal status" that ultimately leads to citizenship to be followed by strict enforcement to prevent a recurrence of the problem.
Members of Congress would be well advised to provide strict scrutiny to this proposal.
The only thing certain to happen if this proposal becomes law is that illegal immigrants are rewarded. These are people who come here in violation of our laws while others wait patiently to come here lawfully.
Of course, members of Congress may not care. Immigration law has become even more politically intense since the November election, when President Obama attracted overwhelming support from Hispanics.
Democrats want to keep the Hispanic vote while Republicans want to attract the Hispanic vote. Some Republican leaders see this bill, particularly the quasi-amnesty provision, as a way to get the issue off the table.
The politics eventually will take care of itself. What's on the table now is policy, and the problem with this legislation is that it has the cart before the horse — legal status for illegals before cutting off the flow of illegals.
It's entirely unrealistic to think the 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in this country will return to their homeland, either voluntarily or through deportation. So some form of amnesty is inevitable and probably best in the long run.
But making illegal immigrants immediately legal followed by the promise of strict enforcement later is the height of naivete. Indeed, there already are reports in Washington, D.C., that the pledge of tough enforcement is just a fig leaf which Republicans can use to shield themselves from criticism.
Most people who came to this country illegally came here to find work. Now that jobs are scarce, the net increase in illegal migration has stopped. Many illegals actually have returned to home in search of better opportunities.
So the idea that millions of illegal immigrants will sign up to follow a pathway to citizenship, pay fines and back taxes and jump through all the hoops outlined in the bill seems misplaced. Some will follow the much-talked-about "path to citizenship." Many won't.
It's fine to have a national discussion on this issue. It is a problem that ought not be ignored. But repeating the mistakes of Simpson/Mazzoli by playing word games with policy won't get the job done right.