The year was 1980, the location was Houston and the question came from the crowd at a presidential primary debate between Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — two bellwether conservatives who would eventually serve together as president and vice president.
Should “illegal aliens,” the crowd member asked, be allowed to attend U.S. public schools?
Bush said immigration policy needed to be “sensitive” and “understanding” toward the “really honorable, decent, family-loving people” that had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without documentation.
Reagan echoed that sentiment.
“Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit,” he said. “And then while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here. And when they want to go back they can go back.”
.. Reagan’s words that night, and his stance in countless other public and private statements as president, contrast starkly with the false history lesson President Trump offered Friday in an early-morning tweet, hours before a potential government shutdown over funding for the president’s border wall.
.. In fact, Reagan signed a sweeping immigration reform bill into law in 1986, which made any immigrant who entered the country before 1982 eligible for amnesty.
.. “The memorable thing about Reagan is that he was a Californian,” Meissner said. “He was not anti-immigration.”
.. “God made Mexico and the United States neighbors, but it is our duty and the duty of generations yet to come to make sure that we remain friends,” Reagan said during a 1981 welcoming ceremony for Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo. “Our very proximity is an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how two nations, talking together as equals, as partners, as friends, can solve their problems and deepen their mutual respect.”
.. U.S. Border Control didn’t begin building physical barriers on the southern border until 1990, the year after Reagan left office, in which a 14-mile long “primary fence” was erected in San Diego. It wasn’t completed until 1993.