Local News

Duke professor: Immigration reform more symbolic than factual

Posted June 26, 2016

— Immigration reform has become a talking point for many politicians in recent elections, from Donald Trump's vow to have Mexico pay for a wall along the southern U.S. border to others working to allow millions in the country illegally to stay here.

President Barack Obama was dealt a setback last week when a deadlocked Supreme Court effectively ended his executive orders to expand delayed deportation actions to about 4 million undocumented immigrants.

"One of the problems is that so much of it is about symbol rather than facts, and that's frustrating as a historian," Gunther Peck, an associate professor of history at Duke University, said of immigration reform efforts.

The last comprehensive immigration reform occurred three decades ago under President Ronald Reagan.

"One of the most interesting things to learn from that '86 debate is that the Republicans, the most popular Republican president in the post-war period was a pro-immigration president," Peck said.

"Future generations of Americans will be thankful for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people – American citizenship," Reagan said when he signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which gave millions of immigrants legal status.

"Amnesty did not solve the problem of undocumented immigration," Peck said. "Believe it or not, that was the promise, that if you let all these people in, we'll fix the problem once and for all."

Recent studies show illegal immigration is on the decline, with more people leaving the U.S. for Mexico than the other way around.

Still, Peck said, U.S. attitudes toward immigrants have hardened in recent years.

"We've had a kind of resurgence of isolationism," he said. "In the context of a global war on terror, post 9/11, immigrants have been hurt by that as well."


Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Amy Whaley Jun 27, 2016
    user avatar

    If I remember correctly, Reagan's amnesty (covering 3 million illegals) was to be a one time deal with a promise to increase border security, stronger penalties for companies that hired illegals, and other stronger control measures to deter illegal immigration. I remember Reagan speaking about how the controls would keep the American people from ever having to deal with amnesty again. Said “control” mechanisms were firmly ignored in subsequent Congressional and Executive administrations which allowed the problem to get worse.

    This article also claims that "recent studies" show illegal immigration declining. I googled that info and found a long list claiming immigration is increasing. According to the Pew Research Center, "at the U.S.-Mexico border, the number of families and unaccompanied children apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials is again rising, though it’s too early to tell how 2016 will compare with prior years."

  • Steve Allen Jun 26, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Once again you are an uniformed liberal. We are seeing an influx of Immigrants thanks to President Obama. Also they are not assimilating as past Immigrants have done. I see them in lines using welfare cards to pay for items and then paying cash for beer, The immigrants now are not adding to society but taking.

  • Marty Martin Jun 26, 2016
    user avatar

    Republicans have been led to believe that illegals are flooding over the border! - but the facts are....more illegals are LEAVING the USA than attempting to enter.
    But the LIES and fearmongering continue.....