“Mom hid a present for you in the basement.”
“Last time you said that, you locked me downstairs for three hours.”
“This time I won’t.”
Before Matt Groening gained wealth and fame from The Simpsons, he drew a bleakly funny series of comic books. That snippet of dialogue comes from one of them. It also explains a lot of the negative reaction to President Obama’s immigration proposals: There’s a long record of broken promises in this policy domain.
The record stretches back to the immigration reform of 1986. That year, Congress enacted an amnesty for illegal immigrants joined to promises of more effective enforcement in future. Instead of halting law-breaking, however, the 1986 reform enabled more of it. Immigration officials detected fraud in one-third of the applicants for the specialized amnesty for agricultural workers. Some applicants had never worked in the fields a day in their lives. Some had been convicted of crimes. Some weren’t the people they said they were. Some were disqualified for other reasons. Yet 90 percent of the 1.3 million applications were approved regardless.
Thirty years later, the question of good faith has again become urgent to the immigration debate.
To pry open the door of a wider amnesty, Obama and congressional Democrats have directed attention to a subsection of the illegal-immigrant population: young people who were brought to the United States as children, the poetically named “Dreamers.” They proposed a law to offer citizenship to this population—and through them, eventually and ultimately their parents and other relatives. (The original DREAM Act provided for a multiyear delay before Dreamers could sponsor parents and siblings. But DREAM’s most important purpose was to smooth the way for a more comprehensive reform for the benefit of a wider illegal population.)