Immigration Advocates Continue to Press to Fix Harsh 1996 Laws

Wednesday, September 20, 2000
CONTACT: Ben Johnson or Judy Golub
202-216-2400;    Fax: 202-371-9449

Immigration Advocates Continue to Press to Fix Harsh 1996 Laws

The House of Representatives yesterday passed legislation, H.R. 5062, recognizing the harshness and over breadth of the 1996 immigration laws.  The legislation, introduced by Representative Bill McCollum and other supporters of the 1996 laws, passed unanimously.  “The unanimous passage of this bipartisan legislation in the House sends an important message that this year we can and should restore fairness to our immigration laws,” said Jeanne Butterfield, Executive Director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

However, H.R. 5062 fails to offer solutions to many of the most harmful aspects of the 1996 laws.  It would leave in place many of the retroactive provisions that changed the rules midstream and that penalize minor offenders as severely as serious criminals.  Thus, many long-term legal immigrants would continue to face automatic deportation without any possibility of relief and be detained at taxpayer expense.

“Countless individuals already have been torn from their loved ones over the last four years.  Every day that these laws go unchanged more immigrants are put in jeopardy of being permanently separated from their children, spouses, parents,” said Ms. Butterfield.  “The Senate must act to ensure that meaningful reform is enacted this year.” Reform should respect these time-honored principles:

  • The punishment should fit the crime: proportionality should be restored to the immigration laws.  A person who never spent a night in jail should not be treated the same as someone who has served decades in prison.  An offense that is expunged or vacated under state criminal law should not be treated as a conviction under the immigration law.

  • Laws should not operate retroactively.  They are unconstitutional in criminal law and should be avoided in the immigration context.

  • Discretion to make appropriate decisions should be given back to immigration judges. In most cases involving long-term immigrants, an immigration judge should be able to evaluate the nature of the offense, the extent of one's ties to the U.S., evidence of rehabilitation, and the severity of the hardship deportation may cause U.S. citizen and legal resident family members. 

  • Detention should be used only when a person is found to be a danger or a flight risk after an individualized custody hearing before an immigration judge.

  • Restore fair hearings and judicial review of immigration decisions. The decision to deport someone is momentous, especially for refugees fleeing persecution and legal immigrants who have lived most of their lives in this country.

Time is running out.  Congress and the White House must act now to pass legislation that brings balance to the immigration laws, corrects their retroactive application, restores discretionary relief for deserving individuals, abandons mandatory detention, and respects due process principles so fundamental to our American justice system.


Cite as AILA Doc. No. 00092559.