LATINO VOICES

This Is How Much The World Has Changed Since Last Time We Passed Immigration Reform

FILE - In this April 24, 1986 file photo, President Ronald Reagan addresses the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.
FILE - In this April 24, 1986 file photo, President Ronald Reagan addresses the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. One of the main debates in Washington DC in March 2013 is over an immigration reform plan that could open a path to citizenship to 11 million immigrants living illegally in the US. The government, however, still receives and approves cases under the immigration reform plan that Reagan signed nearly 30 years ago. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma, File)

To understand how long overdue comprehensive immigration reform is, consider this: The last time the United States passed comprehensive immigration legislation, Republicans played a leading role in crafting the bill, the Berlin Wall had yet to fall, the U.S. had sided with Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War and the legalization of gay marriage was basically unthinkable.

Illegal immigration continued apace following the 1986 reform signed by then-President Ronald Reagan that legalized the status of nearly 3 million people, largely because of economic and demographic reasons that have little to do with border walls or nativist rhetoric.

These days, apprehensions for illegal immigration have plummeted to about a quarter of the peak of 1.6 million in the year 2000. Nevertheless, spending on border enforcement has skyrocketed. Immigration enforcement now takes up more money than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The number of Border Patrol agents has doubled to 20,000 over the last decade.

In response to opposition to reform in Congress, particularly among House Republicans, President Barack Obama is preparing to announce an executive action to offer deportation relief expected to apply to millions of undocumented immigrants.

Despite the fact that by any reasonable standard the problem of illegal immigration is more under control now than it has been over the last four decades, many continue to clamor for more border enforcement and fume at the possibility of executive deportation relief. U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has said the planned executive action will provoke a "constitutional crisis," while U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) is reportedly considering suing the Obama administration if the president goes through with it.

Despite their objections, the Associated Press reports that previous administrations, including those of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, have used their executive authority to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation.

To get an idea of how long overdue we are for another major immigration reform, here are nine seemingly intractable obstacles the world has overcome since the last time the United States passed comprehensive immigration legislation.


  • 1989



    <strong>The Berlin Wall falls, marking the beginning of the end of European communism.</strong>
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    The Berlin Wall falls, marking the beginning of the end of European communism.

  • 1991



    <strong>The Soviet Union collapses, along with the Cold War.</strong>
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    The Soviet Union collapses, along with the Cold War.

  • 1993



    <strong>European countries set aside centuries of violent conflict and create the European Union common market.</strong>
    Buena Vista Images via Getty Images
    European countries set aside centuries of violent conflict and create the European Union common market.

  • 1994



    <strong>Apartheid falls in South Africa, ending one of the most internationally repudiated systems of racism and colonialism.
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Apartheid falls in South Africa, ending one of the most internationally repudiated systems of racism and colonialism.

  • 1997



    <strong>Great Britain returns Hong Kong to Chinese rule. </strong>
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Great Britain returns Hong Kong to Chinese rule.

  • 2000



    <strong>After a months-long drama exposing the continued tensions between the United States and Cuba, Elián González is retur
    Getty Images via Getty Images
    After a months-long drama exposing the continued tensions between the United States and Cuba, Elián González is returned to his father.

  • 2004



    <strong>Massachusetts becomes the first U.S. state to recognize gay marriage, breaking a taboo perhaps as old as the institut
    Darren McCollester via Getty Images
    Massachusetts becomes the first U.S. state to recognize gay marriage, breaking a taboo perhaps as old as the institution itself.

  • 2008



    <strong>Barack Obama, who promised to pass immigration reform in first term, is elected as America's first black president. H
    Pool via Getty Images
    Barack Obama, who promised to pass immigration reform in first term, is elected as America's first black president. He doesn't get the reform passed after all though.

  • 2012



    <strong>Colorado and Washington become first U.S. states to legalize weed for recreational use. </strong>
    Kent Nishimura via Getty Images
    Colorado and Washington become first U.S. states to legalize weed for recreational use.