Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA or the Simpson–Mazzoli Act) was passed by the 99th United States Congress and signed into law by US President Ronald Reagan on November 6, 1986.

Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
Great Seal of the United States
Acronyms (colloquial)IRCA
NicknamesSimpson–Mazzoli Act
Enacted bythe 99th United States Congress
EffectiveSigned into law by Ronald Reagan on November 6, 1986
Public lawPub.L. 99–603
Statutes at Large100 Stat. 3359
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Senate as S. 1200 by Alan Simpson (RWY) on May 23, 1985
  • Committee consideration by Senate Judiciary, Senate Budget
  • Passed the Senate on September 19, 1985 (69–30)
  • Passed the House on October 9, 1986 (voice vote after incorporating H.R. 3810, passed 230–166)
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on October 14, 1986; agreed to by the House on October 15, 1986 (238–173) and by the Senate on October 17, 1986 (63–24)
  • Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on November 6, 1986

The Immigration Reform and Control Act altered US immigration law by making it illegal to hire illegal immigrants knowingly and establishing financial and other penalties for companies that employed illegal immigrants. The act also legalized most undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the country prior to January 1, 1982.

Legislative background and descriptionEdit

Romano L. Mazzoli was a Democratic representative from Kentucky and Alan K. Simpson was a Republican senator from Wyoming who chaired their respective immigration subcommittees in Congress. Their effort was assisted by the recommendations of the bipartisan Commission on Immigration Reform, chaired by Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, then President of the University of Notre Dame.

These sanctions would apply only to employers who had more than three employees and did not make a sufficient effort to determine the legal status of their workers.

The first Simpson–Mazzoli Bill was reported out of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. The bill failed to be received by the House, but civil rights advocates were concerned over the potential for abuse and discrimination against Hispanics, growers' groups rallied for additional provisions for foreign labor, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce persistently opposed sanctions against employers.

The second Simpson-Mazzoli Bill eventually reached both chambers in 1985 but fell down on the cost issue in the conference committee. That year was a major turning point for attempts to change. Workplace resistance to workplace fines started to subside, partially owing to the law's "affirmative protection" provision, which expressly freed employees from the duty to verify the validity of workers' records.

Also, agricultural employers shifted their focus from opposition to employer sanctions to a concerted campaign to secure alternative sources of foreign labor. As opposition to employer sanctions waned and growers' lobbying efforts for extensive temporary worker programs intensified, agricultural worker programs began to outrank employer sanctions as the most controversial part of reform.

US President Ronald Reagan did not make immigration a major focus of his administration. However, he came to support the package of reforms sponsored by Simpson and Mazzoli and signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act into law in November 1986.[1] Upon signing the act at a ceremony held beside the newly-refurbished Statue of Liberty, Reagan said, "The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans."[2]


The act required employers to attest to their employees' immigration status and made it illegal to hire or recruit unauthorized immigrants knowingly. The act also legalized certain seasonal agricultural undocumented migrants and undocumented migrants who entered the United States before January 1, 1982 and had resided there continuously with the penalty of a fine, back taxes due, and admission of guilt. Candidates were required to prove that they were not guilty of any crime, had been in the country before January 1, 1982, and possessed at least a minimal knowledge about US history and government and the English language.[3]

The law established financial and other penalties for those employing undocumented migrants, under the theory that low prospects for employment would reduce undocumented migration. Regulations promulgated under the Act introduced the I-9 form to ensure that all employees presented documentary proof of their legal eligibility to accept employment in the United States.[4]

Reagan executive actionEdit

The Immigration Reform and Control Act did not address the status of children of undocumented migrants who were eligible for the amnesty program. In 1987, Reagan used his executive authority to legalize the status of minor children of parents granted amnesty under the immigration overhaul,[5] announcing a blanket deferral of deportation for children under 18 who were living in a two-parent household with both parents legalizing or with a single parent who was legalizing.[6] That action affected an estimated 100,000 families.


On labor marketEdit

According to one study, the IRCA caused some employers to discriminate against workers who appeared foreign, resulting in a small reduction in overall Hispanic employment. There is no statistical evidence that a reduction in employment correlated to unemployment in the economy as a whole or was separate from the general unemployment population statistics.[7] Another study stated that if employees were hired, wages were being lowered to compensate employers for the perceived risk of hiring foreigners.[8]

The hiring process also changed as employers turned to indirect hiring through subcontractors. "Under a subcontracting agreement, a U.S. citizen or resident alien contractually agrees with an employer to provide a specific number of workers for a certain period of time to undertake a defined task at a fixed rate of pay per worker."[8] "By using a subcontractor the firm is not held liable since the workers are not employees. The use of a subcontractor decreases a worker's wages since a portion is kept by the subcontractor. This indirect hiring is imposed on everyone regardless of legality."[8]

On illegal immigrationEdit

Despite the passage of the act, the population of illegal immigrants rose from 5 million in 1986 to 11.1 million in 2013.[9]

In 1982, the Supreme Court forbade schools to deny services based on illegal immigration status in Plyler v. Doe.

In 1986, Reagan signed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), which forbade hospitals from denying emergency care services based on immigration status.

On crimeEdit

A 2015 study found that the legalization of three million immigrants reduced crime by 3-5%, primarily property crime.[10] Its author asserts that to be caused by greater job market opportunities for the immigrants.[10] A 2018 study in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy found that, by restricting the employment opportunities for unauthorized migrants, IRCA likely caused an increase in crime.[11][12]

Structure of the Act and relationship to United States CodeEdit

Following the Short title, the IRCA is divided into seven Titles (I through VII). Title I is divided into parts A, B, and C, and Title III is divided into parts A and B. The IRCA affects 8 USC 1101. Additional portions of the U.S. Code created or amended by the IRCA include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Parts A and B of Title I: 8 USC 1324, 8 USC 1324a, 8 USC 1324b, 18 USC 1546, 8 USC 1321, 8 USC 1357, 8 USC 1255.
  • Part C of Title I: 42 USC 1320b-7
  • Title II: 8 USC 1255a
  • Title III: 8 USC 1186, 8 USC 1152, 8 USC 1187

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Brands, pp. 544-545
  2. ^ Reagan, Ronald. (November 6, 1986) Statement on Signing the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Collected Speeches, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Retrieved August 15, 2007.
  3. ^ Coutin, Susan Bibler. 2007. Nation of Emigrants. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY. p. 179
  4. ^ 8 C.F.R. sec. 274a.2.
  5. ^ John Kruzel, "Did Reagan and H.W. Bush issue actions similar to DACA, as Al Franken said?", Politifact, September 8th, 2017. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
  6. ^ Executive Grants of Temporary Immigration Relief, 1956-Present, American Immigration Council, October 2014. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
  7. ^ Lowell, Lindsay; Jay Teachman; Zhongren Jing (November 1995). "Unintended Consequences of Immigration Reform: Discrimination and Hispanic Employment". Demography. Population Association of America. 32 (4): 617–628. doi:10.2307/2061678. JSTOR 2061678.
  8. ^ a b c Massey, Douglas S. (2007). "Chapter 4: Building a Better Underclass". Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System. New York: Russel Sage Foundation. pp. 143–145. ISBN 978-0-87154-585-5.
  9. ^ Plumer, Brad (30 January 2013). "Congress tried to fix immigration back in 1986. Why did it fail?". Washington Post. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  10. ^ a b Baker, Scott R. (2015). "Effects of Immigrant Legalization on Crime †". American Economic Review. 105 (5): 210–213. doi:10.1257/aer.p20151041.
  11. ^ "Immigration, Employment Opportunities, and Criminal Behavior" (PDF).
  12. ^ Freedman, Matthew (2018). "Immigration, Employment Opportunities, and Criminal Behavior". American Economic Review. 10 (2): 117–151. doi:10.1257/pol.20150165.

Works citedEdit

  • Brands, H.W. (2015). Reagan: The Life. New York: Doubleday.

External linksEdit