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Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA)

Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) eliminated key defenses against deportation and subjected many more immigrants, including legal permanent residents, to detention and deportation. It made it much more difficult for refugees to apply for asylum. It established minimum daily detention numbers and lowered the bar for deportable offenses; many crimes categorized as “aggravated felonies” in the immigration context are considered neither aggravated nor felonies in the criminal context. Furthermore, it also fundamentally changed seasonal migration patterns that existed the century prior and substantially impacted the agricultural labor market of the US.

IIRIRA was divided into six broad areas and focused primarily on stronger enforcement efforts and penalties for person who attempt to enter illegally, smuggle immigrants into the country, or live inside U.S. borders without proper documentation. The six major areas of the new law included:

  • Title I: Improvements to border control, facilitation of legal entry, and interior enforcement 
  • Title II: Enhanced enforcement and penalties against alien smuggling and document fraud 
  • Title III: Inspection, apprehension, detention, adjudication, and removal of inadmissible and deportable aliens 
  • Title IV: Enforcement of restrictions against employment 
  • Title V: Restrictions on benefits for aliens 
  • Title VI: Miscellaneous provisions

Border and interior enforcement

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act authorized an increase in the number of Border Patrol agents and support personnel. The law directed new fencing be built along the border at areas where most illegal crossings occurred, and specifically set aside $12 million for a triple-layer fence in the area near San Diego, California. It also directed improvements to be made to border equipment and technology and required border crossing documents to include biometric identifiers such as fingerprints. 

Human smuggling and document fraud

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act gave the INS wiretapping authority for investigations related to human smuggling or document fraud. These offenses, if done for financial gain, were also added to the list of offenses considered federal racketeering. The law also increased criminal penalties for human smuggling and established criminal and civil penalties for offenses such as false citizenship claims and unlawful voting.

Removal procedures

The law established a procedure for expedited removal, by which an INS officer, rather than an immigration judge, may order the removal of an individual. This expedited procedure applied to individuals at a port of entry and those unable to prove that they had been residing in the country continuously for two years. Individuals intending to apply for asylum were exempted from this provision. INS was later replaced by the Department of Homeland Security in 2004, which includes Customs and Border Protection (CBP) who does the majority of these expedited removals at the border now.

Prior to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, non-citizens subject to removal were allowed to adjust their statuses to permanent residency if they had resided in the United States for at least seven years and had no criminal record, and if their removal would cause undue hardship for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident immediate relative. The act eliminated this provision of immigration law.

It also created the unlawful presence bars, making people present in the US for six months or longer inadmissible. Read about the three and ten year bars.

Refugees, Asylum, and Parole

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act created a new claim for refugee or asylum status based on forced abortion or sterilization and allowed 1,000 such claims to be accepted annually.

The law also amended the process for applying for asylum. It made ineligible for asylum individuals who could be removed to a third country without threat and with access to fair asylum procedures. Individuals applying for asylum were required to do so within one year of arriving in the United States. Denied applicants were not allowed to reapply unless they could demonstrate changed circumstances. The law required final decisions on asylum applications to be made within six months and authorized the addition of 600 asylum officers for the purpose. Asylum officers were required to make a determination credible fear of persecution when evaluating asylum applications.

For humanitarian parole from removal, the standard by which such parole was granted was amended from “for emergent reasons or for reasons deemed strictly in the public interest” to “on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.”

  • The law increased the fee for individuals with expired legal status who want to switch to permanent residency from $650 to $1,000.
  • The law allowed certain battered non-citizens eligible for public benefits, allowed states to deny driver’s licenses to individuals residing in the country without legal permission, made such individuals ineligible for social security benefits, and in-state college tuition rates.
  • Added requirements for affidavits of support from sponsors of legal immigration applicants, including making such affidavits legally enforceable against the sponsor, requiring sponsors to be adult U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and requiring sponsors to earn incomes of at least 125 percent of the federal poverty level.

This is a brief overview of IIRIRA. For more details, see the information page and various posts on the topic.


One response to “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA)”

  1. […] illegal-immigration bill that ultimately became IIRIRA was divided into six broad areas and focused primarily on stronger enforcement efforts and […]

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