Ralph Benko

Marco Rubio came under intense fire from the Heritage Foundation last week for his stance in favor of a comprehensive immigration reform. Reform, as it must, includes a path to earn citizenship for illegal aliens who can prove themselves otherwise of good character. Heritage launched a blistering attack on Rubio. Rubio, not Heritage, is on the right track.

There was an unclean deal on immigration reform almost thirty years ago, details here revealed for perhaps the first time. It needs to be cleaned up. Rubio’s way is the right way. The 1986 immigration reform legislation signed into law, by President Reagan, was based on a secret deal. That deal led to what Rubio, forcefully and correctly, has stated: “What we have in place…is horrible for America.”

Exactly what was the deal? According to a private conversation between this columnist and one of its negotiators, an understanding was reached in 1986 that future immigration would be restricted and that the restrictions would not be enforced. Thus, politically speaking, both the anti-immigration and pro-immigration lobby could go back to their constituents and claim victory. What they put in place indeed is “horrible for America.”

The anti-immigration negotiators could go home and point to tough sanctions. The pro-immigration negotiators could go come and point to the fact that there were no mechanisms to enforce these sanctions. This was a “political win-win”…but not for America. It needs to be fixed, and now.

To give some idea of what this looks like the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has only 20,000 employees, (average: 400 per state). Only a fraction of these are Enforcement and Removal Operations officers to detain and deport illegal immigrants. To give perspective, New York City alone has almost twice as many cops as the entire ICE has personnel. These honorable agents are more outnumbered than were Butch and Sundance by the Bolivian Army.

This is but one example of how the 1986 deal was designed to fail. This was a secret deal (from a first-hand, unimpeachable, source) revealed here perhaps for the first time. Heritage cannot be blamed for not knowing the backstory and thus not having taken it into account in the formulation of its policies. Nevertheless, this deal needs to be taken fully into account in order to unwind it in a fully just, as well as effective, manner.

Ralph Benko

Ralph Benko, author of The Websters’ Dictionary: How to use the Web to transform the world. He serves as an advisor to and editor of the Lehrman Institute's thegoldstandardnow.org and senior advisor to the American Principles Project.

Get the best of Townhall Finance Daily delivered straight to your inbox

Follow Townhall Finance!