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Bill Clinton Immigration Act 1996 Continues to Harm Immigrants

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In 1996, Democratic President Bill Clinton signed the harshest immigration bill that this nation had seen in decades. The effects of this bill lingered and hung over any efforts for “immigration reform.” En Español.

Interestingly, Clinton's Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act has not been discussed much this election cycle, despite the fact that IIRIRA established the deportation machine that has been humming along for two decades now.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • An overview of the Bill Clinton Immigration Act 1996
  • How it changed US immigration laws 
  • Effects on immigrants and their families 

Immigration Tips and News

Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act Explained

Regular readers of this website know that we have been super-critical of Republican hard-liner Donald Trump and his harsh anti-immigrant, xenophobic presidential campaign. But this does not mean that Democrats get a pass here.

The truth is that the “centrist” Bill Clinton signed the most draconian immigration bill of our lifetime. President Barack Obama has deported more people than any president in the nation’s history. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton promises immigration reform, but what exactly would that reform look like?

The law, which was meant to further border enforcement, increase funding for border patrol agents, and deter illegal immigration, has instead caused immense hardship for countless immigrants who have been torn apart by deportation. Despite calls for reform, the 20-year-old law continues to wreak havoc by deporting immigrants, increasing penalties, and making it more difficult for legal immigrants to become citizens.


How Can ‘90s Immigration Reform Affect Immigrants?

Lost in all of this is IIRIRA.  According to a recent article on Vox:

The ’96 law essentially invented immigration enforcement as we know it today — where deportation is a constant and plausible threat to millions of immigrants. It was a bundle of provisions with a single goal: to increase penalties on immigrants who had violated US law in some way (whether they were unauthorized immigrants who’d violated immigration laws or legal immigrants who’d committed other crimes).

Here’s how it can heavily affect individual immigrants:

Fast-track deportation

IIRIRA greatly expanded the types of crimes that could result in the deportation of a foreign national. This included lawful permanent residents. And the Bill Clinton immigration law made those changes retroactive, thereby boosting the number of possible (probable) deportations.

Arbitrary detention

The law also made many immigrants subject to mandatory detention while their immigration cases were being decided by immigration judges. This pretrial hammer was used to make frustrated and imprisoned immigrants give up their effort to stop deportation and simply go home. An underfunded deportation judicial system only meant that these immigrants had to wait longer and longer while in lockup for their day in court.

Difficulty to obtain legal help

Immigrants convicted of certain crimes or those caught within 100 miles of the border were given summary deportation orders without ever having the chance to see an immigration judge. It also forced the federal government to detain more immigrants before deporting them, making legal representation far more difficult.

Cancellation of removal made impossible

Finally, the 1996 law made it almost impossible for undocumented immigrants to receive a cancellation of removal. This is a form of relief for longtime undocumented immigrants who have not committed crimes to stay in the country. IIRIRA made it almost impossible to obtain such relief.

In Conclusion

Proponents of immigration reform and immigration advocates are understandably appalled by the harsh rhetoric coming from the Republican party on this issue. But it cannot and should not be lost on anyone who follows this issue that the Democrats have a lot of blame for our current situation with immigration policy as well.

If you have any questions about the Bill Clinton Immigration Law and other immigration laws, give us a call at 314-325-1379, or you can email us at [email protected].


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