Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996

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Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleAn Act making omnibus consolidated appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1997, and for other purposes.
Acronyms (colloquial)IIRIRA
NicknamesOmnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997, "The Mexican Exclusionary Act of 1996":
Enacted bythe 104th United States Congress
EffectiveSeptember 30, 1996
Public law104-208
Statutes at Large110 Stat. 3009 aka 110 Stat. 3009-546
Titles amended8 U.S.C.: Aliens and Nationality
U.S.C. sections amended
Legislative history

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, Division C of Pub.L. 104–208, 110 Stat. 3009-546, enacted September 30, 1996 (often referred to as "i-RAI-ruh," and sometimes abbreviated as "IIRAIRA" or "IIRIRA") modified the immigration laws of the United States.

This act states that persons unlawfully present in the United States for 180 days but fewer than 365 days must remain outside the United States for three years unless they obtain pardons. If they are in the United States for 365 days or more, they must stay outside the United States for ten years unless they obtain waivers. If such a person return to the United States without pardon, he or she may not apply for a waiver for a period of ten years.

Among other changes, the Act explicitly gave the Attorney General broad authority to construct barriers along the border between the United States and Mexico, and it authorized the construction of a secondary layer of border fencing to support the already completed 14-mile primary fence. Construction of the secondary fence stalled because of environmental concerns raised by the California Coastal Commission.

Constitutional Issues[edit]

Previously, immediate deportation was triggered only for offenses that could lead to five years or more in jail. Under the Act, commission of lesser crimes (such as shoplifting) also may make individuals eligible for deportation.

When IIRIRA was passed in 1996, it was applied retroactively to all those convicted of deportable offenses. However, innINS v. St. Cyr (2001), the US Supreme Court decided that Congress had not intended IIRIRA to be applied retroactively to those who had pled guilty to a crime prior to the enactment of IIRIRA if they would not have been deportable at the time they pled guilty.

IIRIRA's mandatory detention provisions have also been repeatedly challenged, with less success. The Reed Amendment (a provision of IIRIRA which excludes from the United States those people whom the Attorney General finds to have renounced American citizenship in order to avoid payment of taxes) also has been attacked as unconstitutional.[1]

The IIRIRA authorized the Immigration and Naturalization Service to use "secret evidence" against aliens in various immigration proceedings if the evidence is deemed classified and the INS considers it relevant to the case. Critics have challenged the constitutionality of this provision; in 1999 and 2000, a "Secret Evidence Repeal Act" was introduced in Congress but not passed.[2]

Deportation issues[edit]

Deportees may be held for as long as two years before being brought before an immigration board, at which defendants need to pay for their own legal representation if they desire it.[citation needed] In Zadvydas v. Davis (2001), the Supreme Court curtailed the Immigration Service's ability to hold deportees indefinitely.

Section 287(g)[edit]

IIRIRA addressed the relationship between federal and local governments. Section 287(g) of the Act allows the U.S. Attorney General to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies, permitting designated officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions pursuant to a Memorandum of Agreement. The Section does not simply deputize state and local law enforcement personnel to enforce immigration matters.[3] This provision had been implemented by local and state authorities in five states (California, Arizona, Alabama, Florida, and North Carolina) by the end of 2006.[4]

Higher education restrictions[edit]

Upon passage of this law, states were restricted from offering in-state tuition at public institutions to students who were not legally in the country.[5] Specifically, if a state allows illegal immigrant students to be eligible for in-state tuition, then residents from other states must also be eligible for in-state tuition. Several states have passed tuition-equality laws by allowing anyone regardless of legal status to apply for in-state tuition if they meet the state's eligibility requirements.[6]


A 2018 paper found that the Act reduced the health and mental health outcomes of Latin-American undocumented immigrants in the United States by escalating their fear that they would be deported.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carter, Michelle Leigh (2002). "Giving Taxpatriates the Boot, Permanently: The Reed Amendment Unconstitutionally Infringes on the Fundamental Right to Expatriate". Georgia Law Review. 36 (835). Retrieved 2012-05-18.
  2. ^ Gobind Singh Sethi. "Legislative Focus: Repealing the Use of Secret Evidence". American University Washington College of Law, Human Rights Brief – Volume 8, Issue 1, 2000.
  3. ^ Archived September 25, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Zezima, Katie (December 13, 2006). "Massachusetts Set for Its Officers to Enforce Immigration Law". New York Times.
  5. ^ Pérez, Zenen Jaimes (2014). Removing Barriers to Higher Education for Undocumented Students (PDF). Center for American Progress.
  6. ^ Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, Public Law 104-208, 104th Cong. 1st sess. (September 30, 1996).
  7. ^ Wang, Julia Shu-Huah; Kaushal, Neeraj (April 2018). "Health and Mental Health Effects of Local Immigration Enforcement". NBER Working Paper No. 24487. doi:10.3386/w24487.

External links[edit]