US: 20 Years of Immigrant Abuses

Under 1996 Laws, Arbitrary Detention, Fast-Track Deportation, Family Separation

(Washington, DC) – The United States Congress should repeal provisions in two 1996 immigration laws that have subjected hundreds of thousands of people to arbitrary detention, fast-track deportations, and family separation, Human Rights Watch said today.

A proposed resolution to be introduced on April 26, 2016, by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, symbolically recognizes some of the harm caused by these laws and proposes limited reform.

“The US appears to be coming to grips with the harm caused by its 90s-era crime laws,” said Alison Parker, co-director of the US program at Human Rights Watch. “These 90s-era immigration laws also deserve serious scrutiny and reconsideration.”

President Bill Clinton signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, known as AEDPA, on April 24, 1996. The legislation, passed in the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, greatly expanded the grounds for detaining and deporting immigrants, including long-term legal residents. It was the first US law to authorize certain now-widely-used fast-track deportation procedures.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), signed in September 1996, made further sweeping changes to immigration laws. It eliminated key defenses against deportation and subjected many more immigrants, including legal permanent residents, to detention and deportation. IIRIRA defined a greatly expanded range of criminal convictions – including relatively minor, nonviolent ones – for which legal permanent residents could be automatically deported. IIRIRA also made it much more difficult for people fleeing persecution to apply for asylum.

By Human Rights Watch
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