Illegal Immigration, Then vs. Now

Illegal immigration as debated by Reagan and Bush – what a difference 30 years makes!

During the 1980 debate between Republican presidential candidates Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, one of the questions posed was eerily similar to the one posed to Gov. Rick Perry in Orlando in September, 2011. The issue has not changed. Our world has and so has our response. Here are the excerpts from the 1980 debate which demonstrate a sensitivity to the issue of illegal immigration that has entirely disappeared from our current public discourse:

Question:  Do you think the children of illegal aliens should be allowed to attend Texas public schools for free or do you think their parents should pay for their education?


George H. W. Bush: “I’d like to see something done about the illegal alien problem that would be so sensitive and so understanding about labor needs and human needs where that problem wouldn’t come up….but today if those people are here, I would reluctantly say that they should get whatever society is willing to give to their neighbors…but the problem has to be solved. Because as we’ve made as illegal, sometimes the labor that I’d like to see as legal, we’ve created two things: we’ve created this society of decent honorable family loving people who are in violation of the law and secondly we’re exasperating our relations with Mexico. The edge of your question is much more fundamental than whether they can attend Houston schools. If they’re living here, I don’t want to see a whole set of 6 and 8 year old kids being made – totally uneducated and made to feel that they’re living outside the law – that’s fundamental. These are good people…strong people … part of my family.”

Ronald Reagan: “I think that the time has come for the U.S. and our neighbors, particularly with our neighbor to the south, to have a better understanding and a better relation that we’ve ever had. I think we haven’t been sensitive enough to our size and our power. They have a problem of about 40-50% unemployment. Now this cannot continue without the possibility of rising trouble below the border where we could end up having a hostile and strange neighbor on our border. Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then while they’re working, and earning here, then they pay taxes here and when they want to go back, they can go back…and open the border both ways by understanding their problem.”

Article categories: Immigration Policy and Legislative Initiatives

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