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Lawmakers seek repeal of controversial 1996 immigration laws

Immigrants in South Carolina and around the country live with the knowledge that even a small misstep could dash their hopes of naturalization and lead to deportation proceedings, and many of these fears are rooted in two crime reduction bills passed in 1996. Crime rates were soaring in the 1990s, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act were two of many tough on crime laws introduced by the Clinton administration to reassure a nervous public.

Immigrants who commit aggravated felonies face deportation, and the 1996 laws expanded this category to include minor offenses such as shoplifting, possessing marijuana and passing bad checks. Immigrants who commit offenses categorized as aggravated felonies are turned over to federal authorities to face deportation proceedings once they have served their custodial sentences. These laws also stripped immigration judges of the ability to review these cases and prevent deportations deemed to be unjust or unfair.

Crime bills passed with the best of intentions during the 1990s have been widely criticized in recent years, and three members of the House of Representatives introduced a resolution on April 28 that calls for the two controversial 1996 immigration bills to be repealed. The three Democrats cited the case of an immigrant who had lived in the United States on a green card without incident since the 1970s. The immigrant was detained for longer than six months under the 1996 laws after being charged with drug possession with intent to sell for giving away legally prescribed pain medication.

Attorneys with experience in this area may understand that the nation's immigration laws can sometimes seem capricious and unfair. In addition to assisting immigrants with their visa or naturalization paperwork, attorneys may advocate on their behalf during deportation hearings and before immigration judges.

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