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November 1996, Volume 3, Number 11

Assessing 1996 Immigration Changes

In 1996, three major laws that affect immigrants and immigration were enacted: The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, signed into law on April 24, 1996; the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, signed into law on August 22, 1996; and The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, signed on September 30, 1996.

The immigration bill will, inter alia, increase the size of the US Border Patrol to 10,000 agents by 2001.

The immigration bill also includes a pilot employee eligibility verification program that employers in sectors with a history of employing illegal immigrants will be encouraged to enroll in. The "basic pilot program" will be launched in at least five of the seven highest-immigration states. Employer participation is voluntary, but many expect that the INS may concentrate its enforcement efforts on non-participating employers.

Foreigners who remain in the United States for more than six months in an unlawful status will be barred from entering the US for three years after their departure, and those who stay unlawfully in the US for one year or more will be barred from returning legally for 10 years.

In one of the first moves to implement the new immigration law, Attorney General Janet Reno asked courts to dismiss five class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of up to 400,000 illegal immigrants in California and Washington. The suits alleged that the aliens were wrongly disqualified from the legalization program that permitted persons in the US illegally since January 1, 1982 to apply for permanent resident status in 1987-88.

The Justice Department asserted that the lawsuits were filed only to allow what it estimated to be 100,000 illegal immigrants to remain in the US.

Under the new immigration law, only the US Supreme Court may issue broad injunctions against INS policies and procedures. Some immigration lawyers, who call the INS a "rogue agency," do not believe that Congress can deprive foreigners in the US from full access to US courts.

Protest and Suits. On October 12, 1996, an estimated 25,000 people demonstrated in Washington DC against "anti-immigrant" sentiment. "La Marcha" organizers had predicted that 100,000 of the nation's 26 million Latinos would participate in what was termed the nation's first "pro-immigrant march." A march in 1994 in Los Angeles to oppose Proposition 187 drew 70,000 participants. The Million Man March organized by African-Americans in 1995 drew an estimated 800,000 people.

Speakers at the rally urged support for a seven-point agenda that included human and constitutional rights for all; equal opportunities and affirmative action; free public education for all; expansion of health services; citizen police review boards; labor law reform and a $7 per hour minimum wage; a streamlined citizenship application program; and an amnesty for immigrants who illegally entered the United States before 1992.

On October 11, 1996, New York City Mayor Giuliani sued the federal government over provisions in the new welfare and immigration laws that allow--not require-- city employees to report suspected illegal immigrants who seek city services to the INS. Since 1985, New York City has prohibited its employees from reporting suspected illegal aliens to INS. According to the mayor's office, there were about 400,000 illegal aliens in New York City in 1993, including 85,000 of school age.

New York officials claimed that allowing city employees to file reports with INS would violate the 10th Amendment, which reserves for the states all powers not expressly granted to the federal government.

David Johnston, "Government Quickly Using Power of New Immigration Law," New York Times, October 22, 1996. George Ramos, "Thousands of Latinos March in Washington," Los Angeles Times, October 13, 1996. Patrick McDonnell, " New Law Could End Immigrants' Amnesty Hopes," Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1996.