Two years after the prevention through deterrence policies, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996 with President Clinton’s approval.
The act, referred to as IIRAIRA (pronounced Ira-Ira), reformed the qualifications necessary to deport an immigrant to ease restrictions and legally deport more individuals. Undocumented immigrants who were convicted of certain misdemeanors or felonies could easily be deported. Some were even stripped of their right to go in front of a judge.
There are no other U.S. policies that restrict an individual’s rights based solely on their place of birth. On the pragmatic level, people are often concerned about undocumented immigrants abusing taxation laws, but more funding goes into immigration every year than enforcing taxation laws, allowing wealthy people to evade their taxation obligations.
In action, IIRAIRA stripped many documented and undocumented immigrants of their ability to appeal to a judge, depriving them of due process. As a result, many immigrants faced the persecution, economic hardships and gangs they previously escaped without a fair trial, regardless of their status.
Previous to IIRAIRA, “cancellation of removal” was used if an immigrant had been in the U.S. for an extended period of time and would suffer extreme hardship if deported. However, after Congress passed the act, it could only be enforced if a U.S. citizen (like a spouse or child) would suffer extreme hardship if they were to be deported.
“The Attorney General may cancel removal in the case of an alien who is inadmissible or deportable from the United States if the alien […] establishes that removal would result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to the alien’s spouse, parent, or child, who is a citizen of the United States.”
A 2020 report released by the Human Rights Watch investigated cases of immigrants deported back to El Salvador, where many undocumented immigrants flee from gangs. The team investigated 200 cases and identified 138 cases of Salvadorans who were killed after being deported from the U.S. They also reported over 70 cases of deportees who faced sexual violence and/or torture.
“In many of these more than 200 cases, we found a clear link between the killing or harm to the deportee upon return and the reasons they had fled El Salvador in the first place,” the report says.
Between IIRAIRA and Operation Gatekeeper, Clinton-era policies made it easier for undocumented immigrants to be deported but harder for immigrants to gain documentation. A study by the Institute for the Study of Labor reported that between 1986 and 2009, the number of undocumented immigrants tripled.
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