For a younger generation and for the Alt Right, Reagan may unfortunately be remembered as the man who ensured the ruin of his country by signing the disastrous 1986 amnesty which let 3 million illegals stay [Experts: 'Reagan Amnesty' for Illegal Aliens Set The Stage for Immigration Battles, Breitbart, August 23, 2016]. The state of which he was Governor is now practically on the brink of secession because it has been all but taken over by foreigners and the forthrightly anti-American plutocrats who employ them. And of course, Reagan's negative example is constantly exploited by leftists trying to shame Republicans into duplicating the Gipper's mistake.
Of course, former Attorney General Ed Meese says Reagan regretted his error. And Reagan's defenders would point out the 1986 amnesty was supposed to herald a new crackdown to ensure the illegal immigration problem never happened again.
An interesting post at the far left wing magazine Mother Jones provides a way of investigating if Reagan himself actually kept up the enforcement end of the bargain.
Using Open Borders fanatic Bryan Caplan's estimate of a "return" (migrants who go home under threat of deportation) as counting for 85% of a full blown "removal" (you are forcibly sent home and face jail time if you return and are caught), Kevin Drum provides an interesting way of looking how our recent presidents handled immigration enforcement.
Under Obama, removals were much higher than any other president. However, there were far fewer returns. Thus, "deportations" were higher than any other president, but the total number of people who were actually sent home was lower than any other president.If the deportation rate (as a share of the entire illegal population) had been maintained at Reagan levels, we wouldn't have the problem we have today.
The next step is to calculate this as a percentage of the number of illegal immigrants in the country each year. Here it is:
This is approximate, since the total population of illegal immigrants is a little fuzzy before 2000. But it's close enough. Obama still has a higher removal rate and a lower index rate than any other president, but the winner for the title of Deporter-in-Chief is...Ronald Reagan. Every president since then has been successively more tolerant of a large undocumented population.
[Who's the Deporter-in-chief, by Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, February 24, 2017]
However, notice how it declined steeply near the end of Reagan's term, with George H.W. Bush's term actually representing a slight improvement. And this collapse in immigration enforcement (though still far better than what we had under Bush II and Obama) seems to correspond with the 1986 amnesty.
Clearly, Reagan was far better when it comes to immigration enforcement than any other president in recent memory. Our country would be better off if his enforcement levels had been maintained after the end of his administration.
But we can't overlook his overall failure when it comes to this issue and what it has done to his state and to this country, nor how the 1986 amnesty heralded the beginning of the end. Reagan may have won the Cold War, but it will fall to President Trump to win the more important conflict, the Cold Civil War for the existence of the country itself.