President Reagan hailed it as the most sweeping immigration reform since 1952. But while the Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986 welcomed 2.7 million illegal aliens under the so-called “Reagan amnesty,” the portion of the law that was supposed to beef up America’s borders never amounted to anything.

In the years that followed, Washington showed little interest in the law’s border-enforcement provisions — to the point where border security under the Obama administration became a bad joke.

And three decades after the Reagan-era reform, illegal immigration in the U.S. has quadrupled.

Mr. Reagan’s experience is instructive for President Trump in what’s being presented as yet another quid pro quo on immigration: In exchange for citizenship for an estimated 800,000 “Dreamers” — illegals brought to the U.S. as children — Team Trump wants a 70-point immigration plan that focuses on reinforcing the U.S. border.

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In the run-up to any meaningful reform — and before this football again is yanked away before the kick — immigration-law enforcement must come first.

That begins with realistic policies that define, instead of diminish, America’s borders. And rather than waste time and resources on a border wall that more than likely will be breached before it’s fully built, more attention should focus on fully implementing E-Verify, used to check the legal status of job applicants, along with harsher penalties for employers who hire illegals.

Trump can realize what Reagan envisioned if he sticks to his predecessor’s familiar dictum: “Trust, but verify.”


(c)2017 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

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