Ronald Reagan on Border Security

June 18, 2019

The Ronald Reagan border security position is a topic that has been in the news a fair amount recently, as proponents on all sides of the hot-button issue of immigration continue to search for a solution. While President Trump has made the claim that Reagan was in favor of building a wall along the Southern border to restrict illegal immigration from Mexico, that wasn't quite the case. Here is a more accurate look at what Reagan's approach truly was: 

First and foremost, the president advocated for legal migration, understanding that the best way for migrants to join American society was through the legal channels available to them. A strong believer in the principles of American freedom and the equality they promise to all, Reagan recognized the value that immigrants have always brought to the country and the potential they could have on its future. 

The president advocated for American borders to be “two-way,” noting that a physical barrier wouldn’t solve the deeper issues that fuel illegal immigration. So, the Reagan border security approach wasn't centered on a wall, but more so on a comprehensive formula.

“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?” Reagan said in a 1980 presidential debate. “And then while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here. And when they want to go back, they can go back.”

Among the steps Reagan took to address immigration was advocating for more stringent surveillance—believing increased resources and use of technology to monitor borders by both land and air was a more practical approach than a barrier. He also signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. It instated tougher penalties for employers that hired illegal immigrants, while also allowing undocumented immigrants who came into the country prior to 1982 to legally remain—as long as they hadn’t committed crimes and could demonstrate cultural knowledge—while levying taxes and fines. The next year, he signed an executive order to grant amnesty to children of undocumented immigrants living in stable households with parents who were attempting to legalize.

“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here, even though some time back, they may have entered illegally,” Reagan said in a 1984 presidential debate.

While President Reagan championed stronger border security, he did so in a way that recognized the underlying problems at play and worked to create sensible solutions.



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