Federal lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on several competing immigration reform bills -- some of which may debut next week. One way or another, they're all expected to include some kind of path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people already in the country illegally. Reporter: Rachael Myrow
Rachael Myrow, Host: Federal lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on several competing immigration reform bills, and we should see one or more of them debut next week. One way or another they're all expected to include some path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people already in the country illegally. While that political drama unfolds in Washington, D.C., we turn to a man in Fresno with a strong sense of what those reforms could mean on the ground level for California. Don Riding spent nearly 40 years with what was called the INS and what we now call the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Agency. Thank you, Don Riding, for talking with us.
Don Riding: You're welcome!
Myrow: What did you like about the amnesty program of 1986?
Riding: What I liked about it is the fact that people who had been working here for many years were finally able to come forward. A lot of people don't understand that the reason the amnesty program was needed was because of a 1976 change in the law. It used to be, prior to Jan. 1, 1977, that if anyone from the Northern Hemisphere -- primarily Mexico -- was here and had a child born in the U.S., they could immigrate almost immediately. They didn't have to wait 21 years for the child to petition for them. So prior to '77, if someone came here illegally with a family and they had a child born here they could immigrate. When that stopped in '77, all of the sudden all of those people could no longer immigrate. And by '86 we had a couple million people who previously -- not all of them because they didn't all have children born here but many of them -- would have qualified under the old rules. Prior to '77 there was no limit on how many people from Mexico could immigrate. Congress changed the rules in '77 and then got surprised when there were unexpected consequences.
Myrow: Unexpected consequences like what?
Riding: By placing a numerical limit on how many people can immigrate from Mexico, it took 10 years for the Mexicans who filed petitions to immigrate in '77 -- the first year of the new law -- it took them 10 years for all of them to immigrate. These are people who legally immigrated, who qualified, who all of a sudden had to wait their turn. So, you can imagine: What about the people who applied in, you know, in '79, '80, '81, even longer. As it is today, in the category of brothers and sisters of Mexicans, there are approximately 750,000 approved visa petitions for Mexicans in that category. If you do the math for how many are allowed each year, the waiting time is 163 years, four months!
Myrow: What do you think of the new proposals being floated in Washington, D.C.?
Riding: They're not bad. To say that they're perfect -- no, they're not. But you're not going to deport 11 or 12 million people. Now there needs to be some requirements, and they're trying to put the requirements in. A lot of people don't understand, they say, "Well, these people have to pay their taxes." Most of them already are. When I first came to California in 1984, I went around to the various immigrant communities and asked, "How many of you get paid in cash under the table?" Everybody raised their hands. By 2011, when I retired, I asked the same question and everybody raised their hands and said they get paid with checks. What happened is that part of the amnesty program included employer sanctions. Employer sanctions forced people to get counterfeit documents. So even though they might have got paid in a different name, everybody today is being paid with a check. Which means that employers are taking out money for Social Security. They are taking out money for state and federal taxes. They are taking out money for all the things they’re supposed to. So when these reformers say, "Well they have to pay the back taxes," they’re already paying them, almost all of them.
Myrow: What do you think would happen to the Central Valley’s $26 billion farm economy if federal lawmakers required farmers to clean house before importing any workers.
Riding: This basically happened in Washington and Oregon following the amnesty program. There was supposed to be a replenishment agriculture worker program that would allow people to harvest the crops illegally and the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Labor together were to determine how many workers we needed in agriculture those years. Well, the problem was, to determine how many workers were needed they went to the state unemployment offices and asked, ‘how many workers have farmers come and asked for?’ Farmers don’t go the unemployment office to ask for workers. They came back with a report, ‘we need zero agriculture workers.’ And boysenberries and crops like that rotted on the vines in Southern Washington