The Disastrous, Forgotten 1996 Law That Created Today’s Immigration Problem

The immigration reform Hillary Clinton wants could be limited — or even undermined — by a law her husband signed.

Both sides of the aisle agree that the current US immigration system is broken. It’s why immigration’s stayed a hot-button political issue and policy debate, and part of what has made Donald Trump the likely 2016 Republican nominee for president.

But the system hasn’t always been broken. Or rather, it hasn’t always been broken in this particular way.

Everyone remembers that in 1986, President Ronald Reagan passed an “amnesty” law. But what most people don’t know is that in 1996 — fresh off the heels of signing welfare reform, and two years after signing the “crime bill” — President Bill Clinton signed a bill that overhauled immigration enforcement in the US and laid the groundwork for the massive deportation machine that exists today.

Both welfare reform and the crime bills Clinton signed have been relitigated during a contentious Democratic primary, but the 1996 immigration bill — the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act — hasn’t.

That’s mostly because Democrats have come a long way on the issue since 1996, and advocates have been happy to let them do it without asking too many questions about the past. Only now are some progressive Democrats trying to raise the issue (32 members of the House of Representatives have signed onto a congressional resolution condemning the 1996 law, introduced Thursday by Rep. Raul Grijalva).

By Dara Lind for Vox
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