Sunday, November 17, 2019

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Article Index

E. A Overview of the Recent Immigration Reform Efforts

Beginning with the Carter Administration and ending with the 1986 signing of immigration reform legislation by President Ronald Reagan, several members of the executive and legislative branches served on the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy (SCIRP). The1986 statute, known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), included several approaches to reduce the unauthorized migrant population. IRCA imposed sanctions on employers of undocumented workers and granted amnesty to agricultural workers without the proper documents to work legally.

The Immigration Act of 1990 followed IRCA. It increased the number of immigration visas available to legal immigrants and only provided two provisions to combat unauthorized immigration. One proposal called for employer sanctions for those who knowingly hire undocumented persons. Many feared that such a law would adversely impact a Latino population that already experienced discrimination. Others saw it as the only practical way to discourage foreigners from coming to the United States to seek employment. To overcome discrimination fears, Congress added an anti-discrimination feature to the Act. Many have regarded it as a law that looked good for enforcement but that was unpopular since it hit big business. Consequently, until 2006, enforcement hardly occurred.

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) added more crimes, including misdemeanors, to the definition of an aggravated felony. One effect of having an aggravated felony conviction is to qualify for removal. One particularly strident aspect of AEDPA involved a mandate that the aggravated felony deportation provision would include some of these minor criminal convictions regardless of their having become final years before the effective date of the 1996 legislation. In signing one of the 1996 Immigration Acts into law, President Bill Clinton noted the inherent unfairness in fighting terrorism by targeting regular hard-working immigrants: This bill also makes a number of major, ill-advised changes in our immigration laws having nothing to do with fighting terrorism. These provisions eliminate most remedial relief for long-term legal residents.

As 2006 was coming to a close, Congress debated issues regarding the illegal alien problem. Some members of the House wanted to make mere presence in an unauthorized status an aggravated felony and Congress passed such a bill in 2005. They would also criminalize anyone who offered assistance to these illegal people. Republican House members envisioned a world in which America's southern border would be protected by a 700-mile-long fence, and this resulted in the Secure Fence Act of 2006. As we near the 2012 elections, the politicization and abuse of this lightning rod immigration issue continues in America. For instance, in October 2011, a leading Republican presidential candidate proposed an electrified and potentially fatal fence at the border with Mexico.

Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

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