Twenty years ago, the U.S. Congress passed a trifecta of immigration laws rife with policy based on anti-immigrant stereotypes. These laws, which were signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, made it much easier to arrest and to deport hundreds of thousands of immigrants who committed minor crimes. However, rather than making the immigration system work better, as Rep. Lamar Smith promised, the laws actually made things much worse.
1996’s Illegal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IIRAIRA) and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (ADEPA) actually created more undocumented people and led to the deportation of legal immigrants — all in the name of reducing “unauthorized immigration.” The laws not only “trampled on basic legal rights enshrined in our Constitution,” but also had three major consequences for our immigration system, according to Dara Lind of Vox: making more people eligible for deportation, giving the government more powers to deport immigrants quicker, and keeping more people from legalizing their status, even when they have a legal path to a green card.
Though the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a few of these provisions, most of IIRAIRA and ADEPA remain intact today, making it easier to arrest and deport immigrants who are found in possession of marijuana, of shoplifting, and of writing a bad check, which are all defined as “aggravated felonies” (a category of criminal convictions that carry harsh consequences like mandatory detention, potential deportation, and a permanent ban from re-entering the United States).
In addition, the pair of laws expanded a program allowing local law enforcement officials to collaborate with federal immigration enforcement. They also made detention mandatory for minor infractions and put a stop to judicial review so that immigration judges would not be able to intervene when a punishment outweighed a crime.
Now, two decades later, numerous immigrants have been ripped from their families because of these laws. Plenty of American children have grown up without parents. And though it has been widely accepted by the American public that our immigration system today is in need of desperate reform, too many people fail to understand that these 1996 laws are still a major part of the problem.
Some members of Congress have taken on the task of making this unjust “splintering of families” more widely known– which is why members of the U.S. House of Representatives — lead by Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Keith Ellison (D-NM), and Judy Chu (D-Calif.) — recently introduced a resolution calling for the destruction of these laws, with the hopes of reducing the number of immigrants swiftly deported back to their home countries.
With the “Fix96 Resolution,” they seek to amend federal policies that have resulted in harsh consequences for hundreds of thousands of individuals and their families–all because “immigrants and their families in the United States have inherent dignity and are deserving of human rights.”
The resolution would repeal the two 1996 immigration laws and, as of right now, it is supported by more than 80 immigrant advocacy organizations. Though it is likely to be shot down in the conservative-controlled Congress, these lawmakers’ still want to “set the tone” and “lay the foundations” for a national dialogue about immigration reform, La Opinion reports.
Cities for Action, a coalition of mayors from across the U.S., issued a statement in support of the resolution. The Immigrant Justice Network also launched a campaign to “Fix ‘96” and restore rights taken from immigrants 20 years ago. Further, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Families for Freedom, 1LoveMovement, and the Immigrant Defense Project laid out specific policy demands to Congress to end the 1996 laws.
“Two of the most egregious contributing factors to the criminalization of immigrants are laws that have been on the books for two decades now,” Grijalva said in a press statement. “Twenty years is far too long to cling to such broken and morally bankrupt policies.”