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The Hope and Heartache of Immigration Reform in 1986 and Today

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) marked the last time the United States was able to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. It was a bipartisan effort, signed into law under President Reagan, that granted a path to citizenship for almost three million undocumented immigrants. The undocumented population continued to grow, however, and efforts for humane immigration reform have been unsuccessful. Legislative gridlock and growing anti-immigrant sentiment doomed Congressional immigration reform efforts under President Bush in 2005 to 2007, and President Obama in 2010. The Dream Act also failed in 2010. In 2012, President Obama bypassed Congress to launch the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), allowing 800,000 young immigrants to obtain work permits and protection from deportation. DACA was recently rescinded. Currently there are almost 12 million undocumented immigrants dealing with the uncertainty of living without status

 

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Welcoming Almost Three Million Undocumented Immigrants

When Reagan signed IRCA into law in 1986, that was just the beginning. Numerous organizations, including the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the U.S. Catholic Conference, mobilized to ensure IRCA reached as many people as possible. They conducted outreach efforts to raise awareness and assist with the application process. They tracked applications and started citizenship classes, which blossomed to include civic engagement efforts. As a result, almost 75% of those eligible were able to gain status through IRCA. In addition, the groups and individuals involved in legislative advocacy and the implementation phase were able to build on that energy and lay the groundwork for the immigrant rights movement of today.

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Building a new home. Building new hopes.

Fleeing civil war, Sonia settled in Monticello, NY and worked in slaughterhouses. She and her family now own 6 poultry farms and employ the next wave of immigrant workers. Azadeh fled violent revolution as a teenager from Iran. She found community among NYC activists and dedicated herself to public service. She was NYC Mayor De Blasio’s first Executive Director of the Commission on Gender Equity. Stedroy was only a child when he left St. Kitt’s. Despite being denied entry to college because he wasn’t naturalized, Sted went on to be an award-winning visual artist and now teaches at F.I.T. These are just some of the many stories we that show the benefits of reform -- for us all.

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Why stories?

What if we could see the future and judge the outcome of what America will look like when we pass comprehensive immigration reform? We can do that, through telling the stories of millions of Americans who were documented in 1986 through the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), America's first and only large-scale legalization program. The Path Home offers inspiring narratives to revive the American legacy of welcoming immigrants by focusing on the real life benefits of inclusion. The voices of IRCA recipients - those individuals who lived through and benefited from historic immigration legislation - are missing from media coverage, community mobilizing efforts, public education, and our historical memory. By uncovering these stories we dispel fear, counter negative stereotypes and show the legacy of what undocumented immigrants have given to America.