The year before Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, the United States took in 207,000 refugees, a number that hasn't been topped since. A big chunk of that came from the Mariel boatlift (as Jesse Walker wrote about yesterday), but that era was also marked by massive influxes from Southeast Asia (particularly Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos), plus smaller jolts from war-torn Central America and revolutionary Iran. To the extent that the platforms of both the Republican Party and Democratic Party talked about immigration in 1980 and 1984, it was mostly about refugees.
We already know that Reagan's views on illegal immigration do not resemble those of the modern GOP; so what about on refugees? Yup, pretty much the same thing.
Here is President Reagan's Statement on United States Immigration and Refugee Policy from July 30, 1981. Some excerpts:
Our nation is a nation of immigrants. More than any other country, our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands. No free and prosperous nation can by itself accommodate all those who seek a better life or flee persecution. We must share this responsibility with other countries. […]
• We shall continue America's tradition as a land that welcomes peoples from other countries. We shall also, with other countries, continue to share in the responsibility of welcoming and resettling those who flee oppression.
• At the same time, we must ensure adequate legal authority to establish control over immigration: to enable us, when sudden influxes of foreigners occur, to decide to whom we grant the status of refugee or asylee; to improve our border control; to expedite (consistent with fair procedures and our Constitution) return of those coming here illegally; to strengthen enforcement of our fair labor standards and laws; and to penalize those who would knowingly encourage violation of our laws. The steps we take to further these objectives, however, must also be consistent with our values of individual privacy and freedom. […]
• We shall strive to distribute fairly, among the various localities of this country, the impacts of our national immigration and refugee policy[.] […]
• We shall seek new ways to integrate refugees into our society without nurturing their dependence on welfare.
• Finally, we recognize that immigration and refugee problems require international solutions. We will seek greater international cooperation in the resettlement of refugees and, in the Caribbean Basin, international cooperation to assist accelerated economic development to reduce motivations for illegal immigration.
Immigration and refugee policy is an important part of our past and fundamental to our national interest. With the help of the Congress and the American people, we will work towards a new and realistic immigration policy, a policy that will be fair to our own citizens while it opens the door of opportunity for those who seek a new life in America.
There's plenty of other stuff of interest there (such as: "Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status"). Whole thing worth a read.