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Immigration Reform: Whatever Happened to "Fixing '96?"

  ·  Isabel Anadon

I recently attended a May 13 community forum hosted by the Chicago Reporter to celebrate the magazine’s 40th anniversary. The event focused on the current—and urgent—topic of immigration reform. 

The forum included Congressman Luis Gutierrez, local community activists, and immigration lawyers who dialogued on the prospects of immigration reform this year as well as how current enforcement has criminalized many non-criminal immigrants. Findings from a Chicago Reporter feature story, “Speedy Removal,” were also discussed. The story documented the negative effects of the fast-track deportation procedures in place since 1996, focusing on the Chicago enforcement area (Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin) with a number of eye-opening statistics: 

  • In 2011, of the total 11,786 deportations in Chicago enforcement area, 60 percent were carried out without judicial hearing.
  • Between 2008 and 2011, almost half (47 percent) of those deported in fast-track procedures voluntarily waived their right to appear before a judge.
  • Between 2008 and 2011, both nationwide (38 percent) and in the Chicago area (45 percent), Mexicans were the largest share of immigrants in expedited removal situations.

“Speedy Removal” illustrates the heartbreak one family is currently enduring as a result of this broken immigration system and the particularly harsh effects that the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA)—signed by then-President Clinton—has had on many immigrant families.

There are people who could be sponsored by a family member or an employer, but they simply can’t because they have these [fast-track] removals,” said Laura Lichter, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, who said she sees many such cases in her practice. “They are here illegally because there are many roadblocks in the path to citizenship.” [Quote from “Speedy Removal.”]

As Congress and advocates continue to push immigration reform on a federal level, many leaders within the Latino community continue to emphasize, as they have for years, that comprehensive immigration reform is a long-term goal.  While SB744, the reform bill currently making its way through committee in the Senate Judiciary, includes several generous provisions, there are still deep-seeded problems with federal immigration policy and enforcement that it does not address. 

Shortly after IIRIRA was signed into law, activists across the country began a campaign titled “Fix '96” as a way to restore the rights stripped from noncitizens and to address the particularly harsh and punitive elements of the new law, including: 

  • An amplified definition of criminal activity that was made retroactive to noncitizens;
  • An expanded definition of mandatory detention and deportation and its inclusion of legal permanent residents;
  • A denial of public benefits to legal permanent residents for five years;
  • A dramatic increase in the number of noncitizens deported (from 1994 to 1998, the average daily number of persons in immigration detention went from 6,785 to 15,447);
  • The removal of the federal court's ability to police immigration enforcement by creating the mechanism for fast-track deportations; and
  • The establishment of three-year, ten-year, and permanent reentry bars for those individuals present illegally in the U.S.

Success in the current push for comprehensive immigration reform will come from our understanding of just how much the current system criminalizes the immigrant community, particularly the Latino immigrant community.  Meanwhile, our collective short-term memory on the effects and impact of IIRIRA will mean the continued separation of families, despite the best-laid plans in current reforms. Even as our leaders continue to debate the best fix for our current immigration system, we must continue to “Fix '96.”

 

Posted In: Immigration

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