According to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Clinton-era immigration laws “have subjected hundreds of thousands of people to arbitrary detention, fast-track deportations and family separation.”
Human Rights Watch is calling on the U.S. Congress to repeal provisions in two laws passed in 1996 which have created a system in which refugees and migrants face detention and fast-track deportation without adequate consideration from U.S. authorities.
The bill is known as the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), and was passed in response to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, in which domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh attacked the Alfred P. Murrah federal government building killing 168 people and injuring another 680.
Although this bill was meant to stop future attacks like this, it instead enabled fast-track deportation procedures, and also greatly limited the powers of federal courts to consider petitions filed by prisoners who say they were wrongly convicted, including people on death row.
The other bill signed in by Bill Clinton was the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). According to HRW, the legislation “eliminated key defenses against deportation and subjected many more immigrants, including legal permanent residents, to detention and deportation.”
The bill allowed the government to detain and deport immigrants, including legal permanent U.S. residents, for a range of relatively minor offenses, along with making it very difficult for refugees to apply for asylum.
HRW has also documented over the last 20 years how these laws have even viewed a wide variety of criminal convictions as triggers for automatic deportation or detention, including cited cases of longtime U.S. residents being deported for drug convictions even after serving their time.
One of the modern impacts of these policies is the American government’s present ability to fast-track deportations of Central American refugees, even though some of them have been refugees fleeing from violence. From January 2014 to October 2015, up to 83 refugees and migrants the U.S. deported back to Central America were killed.
HRW also reports more than 2.5 million people have been deported under Obama, around one-forth more than former president George W. Bush, and more than any other president in U.S. history.