Large-scale amnesty programs have allowed millions of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States legally since the 1980s.
While politicians squabble over the definition of the term amnesty and whether it applies to certain proposals, PolitiFact called
the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 “the standard” in modern politics.
Here are details about that legislation and other times the United States has granted amnesty to large numbers of illegal immigrants.
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The Immigration Reform and Control Act
Also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, this law was signed by President Ronald Reagan and enacted in November 1986. The act granted temporary legal status to any unauthorized immigrants who had been living in the United States continuously since 1982 so long as they paid a $185 fee and could demonstrate they’d shown good moral character, The Washington Post reported
. The act made unauthorized immigrants eligible for green cards after 18 months, provided they learned to speak English. The act also took actions that included – for the first time – penalizing businesses that knowingly employed unauthorized immigrants. The act became the largest U.S. legalization program in history, resulting in green cards being awarded to about 2.7 million immigrants – though that left at least 2 million unauthorized immigrants untouched, the Post reported.
Congress in 1994 approved what was known as a Section 245(i) amnesty, which was used to pardon about 578,000 eligible illegal aliens who paid fines of $1,000 each, according to the Center for Immigration Studies
. That amnesty was renewed in 1997 and again in 2000. The latter reinstatement resulted in amnesty for an estimated 900,000 illegal aliens, according to NumbersUSA
Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act
Congress in 1997 approved the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act. The measure gave legal status to about 1 million unauthorized immigrants, mostly from Central America, according to the Center for Immigration Studies
. The NACARA specifically granted amnesty to Nicaraguans and Cubans who had lived in the U.S. since 1995, along with their spouses and unmarried children, so long as they applied by April 1, 2000, said NumbersUSA
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Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act
Congress in 1998 approved the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act after Haitians became the first group to successfully argue that it would be discriminatory for the U.S. to refuse them the same treatment provided through NACARA, NumbersUSA said
. The act is estimated to have added 125,000 Haitian refugees to the U.S. population.
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