Press Release: 20 Years After IIRIRA, Still No Fix- Policy Harms Immigrants and the Nation



Thursday, September 29, 2016
Contact person: 
Cristina Garcia
(773) 875-3314

Still no Fix for 96 – Twenty Years Later, Immigrants Still Held Hostage to Harsh Law

         Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) criminalized immigration, set the country on a path to growing xenophobia.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) was introduced by Republican lawmakers, supported by many Democrats, and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton on September 30, 1996. As we reach its 20th anniversary, the human cost of criminalizing migration can be measured in part by the more than 2 million people who have been deported in the past seven years alone, the more than 30,000 immigration detention beds that are filled every night, and the many thousands of children of immigrants who go to bed every night fearing that their parents might not be there when they wake up.

Oscar Chacon, Alianza Americas’ Executive Director issued the following statement:


IIRIRA remains to this day the most draconian change enacted in US Immigration Policy in recent history, with profound and far-reaching implications that continue to haunt immigrant communities and poison the debate around rational immigration policy changes. Provisions in the law that retroactively re-classified many minor offenses into aggravated crimes have contributed to a growing perception that immigrants are criminals and undesirables. These retroactive changes have led to thousands of long term Legal Permanent Residents to be detained and deported. The law created new punishment measures (3 or 10 year re-entry bars) for foreign nationals who have resided in the US without authorization. It also expanded exclusion grounds for those who have sought immigrant visas. It set the foundation for local law enforcement agencies to be deputized as immigration agents, thus endangering the trust between immigrant communities and local police forces. It gave immigration officers and immigration judges a level of discretionary power like never before.


The 1996 law had its roots in a dynamic that feels ominously familiar. It was passed in an atmosphere of domestic anxiety about economic insecurity, terrorism and nurtured by a narrative that painted immigrants, primarily those from Mexico, as an economic, social, political and cultural threat to the nation. It is hard to imagine how to get to sensible, humane immigration policy without getting rid of IIRIRA, a law that has punished immigrant communities in a harsh and unjust manner for nearly 20 years. If we want to make real progress, it is past time for us to bury the 1996 law once and for all and adopt new policies that faithfully reflect the vast array of data documenting the multiple ways in which immigrant communities contribute generously to wealth generation, as well as tax revenues in the US. In addition, hard-working immigrants have also increased social and economic opportunities for millions of people in their countries of origin through the billions of dollars in remittances they send every year.