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IIRIRA: Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, explained

Considered as the catalyst for modern the system of immigration enforcement, the IIRIRA law increased apprehensions at the border and mandated bans on re-entry for individuals who have remained in the country illegally.

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Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, IIRIRA, was enacted during the Clinton administration with the objective to strengthen immigration laws by increasing enforcement resources, expanding the definition of who was considered deportable, and instituting harsher penalties for illegal immigration. 

The nearly 300-page IIRIRA detailed significant changes to Title 8 of the United States Code, which governs immigration and nationality.  Scholars and immigration attorneys consider it — along with the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which was passed the same year — to be the catalyst behind the modern system of immigration enforcement. 

Both acts made deportation much more common and laid the groundwork for harsh interior enforcement that would characterize Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency created seven years later after the attacks of 9/11.

IIRIRA also made it much more difficult for people living in the country illegally to obtain legal status by requiring them to prove their deportation would cause substantial hardship. In addition, it put in place 3 and 10 year bans on re-entry for individuals who had remained in the United States illegally for more than six months or more than one year, respectively.

The effects of increasing border security led to a surge of apprehensions. The measures also affected legal immigrants in the country. Longtime legal permanent residents became, suddenly, vulnerable to deportation if they had committed crimes, some of which were non-violent.

Also read: What Happens if You Overstay Your Tourist Visa

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