Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA)

As part of a 1996 initiative to curb illegal immigration, the U.S. Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). The measure authorized a doubling of the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents between 1996 and 2001 (5,000 to 10,000) and the building of additional fences along the U.S.-Mexican border south of San Diego, in California. It also provided tougher penalties for those engaged in document fraud and alien smuggling and greater controls on public welfare provided to illegal aliens. The most controversial aspects of the measure involved the streamlining of detention and deportation hearings. This enabled illegal aliens to be deported without appeal to the courts, unless they could demonstrate a realistic fear of persecution in their home country. A review of decisions was required within seven days but could be conducted by telephone or teleconference.
President Bill Clinton did not favor many of the harshest elements of the measure and sought to reverse them through vigorous promotion of the U.S.-Mexican Binational Commission and its Working Group on Immigration and Consular Affairs. Clinton also strongly supported passage of the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA), which effectively granted amnesty to many Central American refugees whose status had remained ambiguous since the 1980s civil war in Nicaragua. In 1999, the Supreme Court let stand lower court rulings allowing appeal to the courts. The harsher provisions of the IIRIRA led to introduction in Congress of a bill called the Restoration of Fairness in the Immigration Act of 2000, which sought to eliminate retroactive consideration of minor crimes and to provide for adequate judicial review of judgments. As of mid-2004, the proposed act remained in committee.

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