Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986

Adopted under the Reagan administration, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was intended to comprehensively address unauthorized immigration into the United States. The bill included sanctions against employers for hiring undocumented immigrants and more expansive border enforcement, and it granted unprecedented amnesty to undocumented immigrants who arrived before January 1, 1982. Around 2.7 million people, or nearly nine in ten applicants, who arrived before then received legal status once they applied for it.

Under the IRCA, employers who hired undocumented people were subject to civil penalties between $250 and $10,000 for each such hire. Lawmakers argued the sanctions would discourage people from immigrating illegally by eliminating job opportunities for undocumented immigrants. In response to concerns that the sanctions would create a shortage of farm workers, the bill included special provisions for people who had worked on farms during the previous year: the Special Agricultural Worker program.

By 2001, one-third of IRCA Legal Permanent Residents had naturalized.