20-Year-Old Immigration Laws Continue to Hurt Communities

Apr 29 20-Year-Old Immigration Laws Continue to Hurt Communities

SEARAC Applauds Rep. Grijalva for Fighting to Roll Back Old Policies That Criminalize Immigrant Families

Washington, DC -  Today, Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ-7) introduced H. Res. 708, expressing Congressional support for comprehensive immigration reform that would remove unnecessary barriers to legal immigration and repeal 20-year-old laws that have criminalized millions of immigrants. The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) joins the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), 31 original Congressional co-sponsors, and 85 supporting organizations to applaud Rep. Grijalva's leadership in standing up against unjust policies that have disproportionately impacted immigrant and refugee communities for so long.

The introduction of H. Res 708 coincides with the 20th year anniversary of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which the US Congress signed into law on April 24, 1996. Just months later, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) was passed on September 30, 1996. Together, these policies paved the way for the mass criminalization, incarceration, and deportation of immigrant communities through the expansion of mandatory detention and the elimination of due process and judicial discretion.
 
In the two years after these laws were signed, the number of immigrants detained by the government nearly doubled from 8,500 individuals to 16,000, and today DHS holds over 440,000 immigrants in prisons and jails every year.[1] AEDPA and IIRIRA also expanded the number and categories of criminal records that could make even lawful permanent residents deportable. Since the passage of these laws, at least 15,000 Southeast Asian Americans from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam have received final orders of removal, even though most of them arrived in the United States as refugees and obtained green cards. [2] The laws were made retroactive, so many people who had already served their time in the criminal justice system and started new lives found themselves suddenly deportable because of their old records.
 
"IIRIRA and AEDPA have left a devastating 20-year legacy for immigrant and refugee communities," said Quyen Dinh, executive director of SEARAC. "Southeast Asian Americans, who predominantly came to this country as refugees, are 3-4 times more likely than average to be deported because of old criminal records, partly because of these unjust laws. These policies do nothing to make our communities safer - instead they destabilize vulnerable communities by dismantling families. We applaud Rep. Grijalva for recognizing the need for an immigration system that values the inherent dignity of immigrants and their families."