Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Supreme Court examines legacy of '96 laws

Only a few days after Congress passed the Secure Border Fence Act, the Supreme Court started considering the impact of the immigration laws passed ten years ago. September 30 was the ten year anniversary of the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).

On the impact of these law, Ira J. Kurzban writes in an OpEd that "Although IIRIRA was another piece of legislation that was supposed to stop "illegal immigration" into the United States, it unleashed, instead, a series of bad policy choices that have destroyed families, made it virtually impossible to permit illegal immigrants to become legal, and rendered our legal system impotent to stop the worst abuses by government officials who may now run amok without any judicial oversight."

The Supreme Court is considering the case of Jose Antonio Lopez of Sioux Falls, S.D. The Justices are wrestling with the question of whether convictions for minor crimes should force immigrants' deportation. Under IIRIRA, many minor convictions were recategorized as "aggravated felonies" and grounds for deportation. Jose Antonio Lopez was ordered deported for possessing cocaine.

The Associated Press reported that Justice David Souter said "The problem here is that state law and federal law are at odds in determining the gravity of the offense." AP also reported that several justices said they were troubled that immigration authorities would treat differently two people who commit the same crime in different states that hand out different penalties.

According to the reporter, Lopez is a 16-year permanent U.S. resident who has already has been deported to Mexico, but could return to his wife and two children, who are U.S. citizens, if the court rules in his favor, said Benita Jain, a staff attorney with the New York State Defenders Association.

Meanwhile Congress did not mark the anniversary of IIRIRA. It's unclear if they are even aware of the date. With their recent actions, Congress is unwilling to learn about the impact of these laws. Over 1.5 million people have been deported as a result of IIRIRA and thousands of families have been destroyed. Many Congressional representatives would like to see 12 million people deported and are unwilling to consider the situation of these left behind. Hopefully the Supreme Court will make them take notice. Stay tuned...

ACTION STEP: Call your elected representatives and remind them that they passed IIRIRA ten years ago and that our nation doesn't need more of the same measures.