U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley said Wednesday that he made a mistake 27 years ago when he voted for an immigration reform that didn't work the way he expected it would.
The Republican lawmaker said he wants to avoid a similar mistake now that Congress is again working on the same issue.
''I screwed up and other people screwed up in 1986,'' he said.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley talks during a town hall meeting at the Fort Dodge Public Library Wednesday.
He told about 100 people at a town hall meeting in the Fort Dodge Public Library that the law he supported then did not stop the flow of illegal immigrants over the southern border of the United States. He added that it made 3 million illegal immigrants legal residents of the country, but only 44 percent of them became citizens.
''I voted for legalization in 1986 based on the proposition that we were going to, for the first time in the history of our immigration laws, make it illegal to hire undocumented workers,'' he said. ''We didn't anticipate a whole industry of fraudulent documents.''
He said the availability of forged documents undermined the ban on hiring undocumented workers.
According to Grassley, the immigration bill pending in Congress would grant legal status to people now in the country illegally six months after it became law. He said it would allow them to become citizens a decade after that.
He said a court ruling from the 1970s entitles illegal aliens to public education. Federal law also entitles them to care in emergency rooms, he said. But he said they should not get any other kinds of benefits.
Grassley said he considers it his job to make sure the southern border is secure.
While he expects the Senate will spend much of June debating immigration reform, Grassley said he expects action on a new farm bill also.
He said the Senate version of the bill eliminates direct payments to farmers, and maintains crop insurance. It does reinstitute target prices for rice and peanuts, he said.
''That's kind of a controversial thing because in the Midwest we moved to Freedom to Farm 15 or 17 years ago and we see that as a step backwards, so we're going to try to modify that,'' he said.
Grassley said the Senate version of the bill would save $23 billion over a decade. The version in the House of Representatives, he said, would save an additional $10 billion over that time period.
He said the House bill cuts more from the food stamp program than the Senate version does.
Wednesday's town hall meeting was part of a tour of the area in which Grassley also visited Dakota City, Emmetsburg, Pocahontas and Rockwell City. Today he will visit Algona, Clarion and Webster City.