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Presidential Papers Series: Remarks and Statement on Signing the Immigration Act of 1990

by George Bush: 1989-1993

Remarks on Signing the Immigration Act of 1990

Thank you very much for coming, everybody. And first, may I salute the Attorney General and Secretary Ed Derwinski, and also, welcome the distinguished Members of Congress who are with us today: Senator Kennedy and Senator Thurmond, Senator Simpson, Senator Simon. Ham Fish was to be here; Congressmen Morrison and Lamar Smith are with us. I don't know whether Ham wedged into the back or not. But in any event, welcome to all of you.

Today I am pleased to sign S. 358, the Immigration Act of 1990. It is the most comprehensive reform of our immigration laws in 66 years. Nearly all Americans have ancestors who braved the oceans -- liberty-loving risk takers in search of an ideal -- the largest voluntary migrations in recorded history. Across the Pacific, across the Atlantic, they came from every point on the compass -- many passing beneath the Statue of Liberty -- with fear and vision, with sorrow and adventure, fleeing tyranny or terror, seeking haven, and all seeking hope.

And now we stand again before an open door -- a door into tomorrow. Immigration reform began in 1986 with an effort to close the back door on illegal immigration. And now as we open the front door to increased legal immigration, this bill provides long-needed enforcement authority. It also credits the special role of immigrants to America, and it will promote a more competitive economy, respect for the family unit, and swift punishment for drugs and crime.

Immigration is not just a link to America's past; it's also a bridge to America's future. This bill provides for vital increases for entry on the basis of skills, infusing the ranks of our scientists and engineers and educators with new blood and new ideas. And it also boosts our war on drugs and crime, allowing us to send back alien offenders who threaten our streets and who make up nearly a fourth of our Federal prison populations. It'll help secure our borders, the front lines of the drug war. It also revises the exclusion grounds for the first time since enactment in 1952, putting an end to the kind of political litmus tests that might have excluded even some of the heroes of the Eastern European Revolution of 1989.

This bill is good for families, good for business, good for crime fighting, and good for America. We welcome both it and the generations of future Americans who it will bring in to strengthen our great country.

And now I am honored and pleased to sign into law the Immigration Act of 1990. And I'd like to ask the Members of Congress -- if you all would come up -- if we do this. Ed, if you'll get on one side and Dick on the other.

[At this point, the President signed the bill.]

There we go. Well done. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:28 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Attorney General Dick Thornburgh; Secretary of Veterans Affairs Edward J. Derwinski; and Representative Hamilton Fish, Jr. S. 358, approved November 29, was assigned Public Law No. 101 - 649.

Statement on Signing the Immigration Act of 1990

Today I am pleased to sign S. 358, the ``Immigration Act of 1990'' -- the most comprehensive reform of our immigration laws in 66 years. This Act recognizes the fundamental importance and historic contributions of immigrants to our country. S. 358 accomplishes what this Administration sought from the outset of the immigration reform process: a complementary blending of our tradition of family reunification with increased immigration of skilled individuals to meet our economic needs.

The legislation meets several objectives of this Administration's domestic policy agenda -- cultivation of a more competitive economy, support for the family as the essential unit of society, and swift and effective punishment for drug-related and other violent crime.

S. 358 provides for a significant increase in the overall number of immigrants permitted to enter the United States each year. The Act maintains our Nation's historic commitment to family reunification by increasing the number of immigrant visas allocated on the basis of family ties.

At the same time, S. 358 dramatically increases the number of immigrants who may be admitted to the United States because of the skills they have and the needs of our economy. This legislation will encourage the immigration of exceptionally talented people, such as scientists, engineers, and educators. Other provisions of S. 358 will promote the initiation of new business in rural areas and the investment of foreign capital in our economy.

I am also pleased to note that this Act facilitates immigration not just in numerical terms, but also in terms of basic entry rights of those beyond our borders. S. 358 revises the politically related ``exclusion grounds'' for the first time since their enactment in 1952. These revised grounds lift unnecessary restrictions on those who may enter the United States. At the same time, they retain important administrative checks in the interest of national security as well as the health and welfare of U.S. citizens.

Immigration reform began in 1986 with an effort to close the ``back door'' on illegal immigration through enactment of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). Now, as we open the ``front door'' to increased legal immigration, I am pleased that this Act also provides needed enforcement authority.

S. 358 meets several objectives of my Administration's war on drugs and violent crime. Specifically, it provides for the expeditious deportation of aliens who, by their violent criminal acts, forfeit their right to remain in this country. These offenders, comprising nearly a quarter of our Federal prison population, jeopardize the safety and well-being of every American resident. In addition, S. 358 improves this Administration's ability to secure the U.S. border -- the front lines of the war on drugs -- by clarifying the authority of Immigration and Naturalization Service enforcement officers to make arrests and carry firearms.

S. 358 also improves the antidiscrimination provisions of the IRCA. These amendments will help deter discrimination that might be related to the implementation of ``employer sanctions'' under the 1986 law. In this regard, S. 358 helps to remedy unfortunate side effects of this important deterrent to illegal immigration.

In signing this legislation, I am concerned with the provision of S. 358 that creates a new form of relief known as ``temporary protected status.'' The power to grant temporary protected status would be, except as specifically provided, the ``exclusive authority'' by which the Attorney General could allow otherwise deportable aliens to remain here temporarily because of their nationality or their region of origin. I do not interpret this provision as detracting from any authority of the executive branch to exercise prosecutorial discretion in suitable immigration cases. Any attempt to do so would raise serious constitutional questions.

George Bush

The White House,

November 29, 1990.

Note: S. 358, approved November 29, was assigned Public Law No. 101 - 649.
Reprinted with permission from John Wolley and Gerhard Peters of the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara at the American Presidency Project.

About The Author

This is part of the presidential paper historical series featuring past presidential public papers related to immigration law. The papers of our past Presidents show the impact of immigration law in American history. We thank the efforts of the American Presidency Project who have gathered these important archival documents.

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