Immigration and the Law

A Chronology

1789 (ratified): U.S. Constitution. Article I, section 8 gives Congress the power to “establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.” Article I, section 9 says that prior to 1808 Congress may not prohibit the “Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit”—implying that starting in 1808 Congress can control immigration policy and the importation of people as slaves. Section 9 also guarantees habeas corpus, the right to challenge a person’s imprisonment; nothing in the text limits this right to citizens.

1790: Naturalization Act. Establishes that “any Alien being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen” if “he is a person of good character.”

1791 (ratified): First ten amendments to the Constitution (Bill of Rights). Guarantee basic rights of freedom of religion and of speech, the right to protest, the right to freedom from unreasonable searches, and the right to due process, including the right to remain silent. Nothing in the text limits these rights to citizens; several rights are specifically guaranteed to “the people” or a “person.”

1795: Naturalization Act. Increases the residency requirement to five years, for “free white persons,” and requires renunciation of “allegiance and fidelity” to any other country.

1798: Alien and Sedition Acts.

  • Naturalization Act increases residency requirement to fourteen years.
  • Alien Friends Act allows the government to detain and deport foreigners considered “dangerous” to the peace and safety of the United States.
  • Alien Enemies Act allows the detention and deportation of any male over fourteen from an “enemy” nation during times of war.
  • Sedition Act restricts free speech.

1807: Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves. Congress’s first use of its authority to regulate immigration and the importation of persons. Effective January 1, 1808, the Act bans importing “any negro, mulatto, or person of colour, with intent to hold, sell, or dispose of … as a slave, or to be held in service or labour.”

1848: Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Gives the United States control over Texas, California, and the southwestern states; Article 9 allows the more than 100,000 people living there who identify as Mexicans the option of choosing U.S. citizenship—but in practice, their citizenship rights and property ownership are not respected. The more than 200,000 Native Americans in the territory are described in Article 11 as members of “savage tribes” and placed “under the exclusive control of the government of the United States.”

1857: Dred Scott v. Sandford. The Supreme Court rules that only white people can be U.S. citizens, barring all African Americans from citizenship, even free black people who had previously been citizens.

1868 (ratified): Fourteenth Amendment. Establishes that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” No state is allowed to “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

1870: Naturalization Act. Extends naturalization law to cover “aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent”; Asians and other people of color are not mentioned and so remain excluded from naturalization under the 1790 and 1795 laws.

1875: Immigration Act (Page Act). The first immigration law to bar people from entering the United States because of their nationality or ethnicity. It prohibits “the immigration of any subject of China, Japan, or any Oriental country” without the immigrant’s consent, the immigration of people convicted of non-political felonies, and “the importation into the United States of women for the purposes of prostitution.” The unstated purpose is to prevent single Chinese women from immigrating and marrying Chinese men already in the United States, since their U.S.-born children would be citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment.

1882: Chinese Exclusion Act. Excludes all Chinese laborers, skilled and unskilled, from entering the United States for ten years, and provides for deportation of “any Chinese person found unlawfully within the United States.” Chinese laborers already in the country are mostly permitted to stay; if they leave the United States, they can receive a certificate from a local customs inspector allowing them to reenter later. The Act also bars states from granting citizenship to any Chinese person.

1882: Immigration Act. Imposes a 50-cent tax on foreigners entering at U.S. ports and denies entry at a port for people convicted of non-political crimes and for any “lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.” Puts the Secretary of the Treasury in charge of immigration; states continue to carry out local immigration functions, but in coordination with the federal government.

1885: Contract Labor Law (Foran Act). Prohibits the contracting of foreign workers to come to the United States in order “to perform service or labor of any kind.” The ban does not cover “private secretaries, servants, or domestics”; professionals such as artists and actors are also exempted, as are skilled laborers if resident workers for a specific purpose “cannot otherwise be obtained.”

1889: Supreme Court decision in Chae Chan Ping v. United States (Chinese Exclusion Case). The unanimous ruling establishes that Congress can restrict immigration or deport immigrants because of a nation’s “duty” to “preserve its independence and give security against foreign aggression and encroachment” by a foreign nation, “whether from the foreign nation acting in its national character or from vast hordes of its people crowding in upon us.”

1891: Immigration Act. Amends 1882 Immigration Act to create Office of Superintendent of Immigration under the Treasury Department, consolidating the responsibility of the federal government over immigration enforcement. (In 1894 the agency is renamed the Bureau of Immigration.) The Act also increases regulation of the border and expands the list of deportable and excludable foreigners to include “paupers,” polygamists, and people with “a loathsome or a dangerous contagious disease.” Deportation can only take place within one year after the immigrant enters the United States, in contrast to the Chinese Exclusion Act, which has no time limit for deportations.

1892: Ellis Island. Government opens a new facility on a small New York Harbor island to process immigrants arriving on the East Coast. Almost 12 million immigrants pass through the station before it is closed in 1954.

1892: Geary Act. Extends the Chinese Exclusion Act for an additional ten years. Requires Chinese laborers and other people of Chinese descent to acquire a “certificate of residence” by presenting “at least one credible white witness” who can testify to their legal presence. Orders one year of hard labor and subsequent deportation for those who cannot prove they are legally present. (Chinese Exclusion Act is renewed again in 1902 and made permanent in 1904.)

1893: Supreme Court decision in Fong Yue Ting v. United States. Dismisses a legal challenge to the Geary Act, ruling: “The right to exclude or to expel aliens, or any class of aliens, absolutely or upon certain conditions, in war or in peace, is an inherent and inalienable right of every sovereign nation.” Upholds the deportation of Fong Yue Ting and two other Chinese immigrants, based on their failure to findat least one credible white witness” to testify about their resident status.

1898: Supreme Court decision in United States v. Wong Kim Ark. Supreme Court upholds birthright citizenship for people born in the United States to non-citizens (other than representatives of foreign governments). Wong Kim Ark was born in California to Chinese immigrant parents; when he tried to return to the United States after a trip abroad, he was denied reentry under the rules of the Chinese Exclusion Act. His successful challenge of his exclusion solidifies the jus soli principle (“right of the soil,” a legal term for citizenship determined by place of birth).

1903: Immigration Act (Anarchist Exclusion Act). Expands the list of deportable and excludable foreigners to include epileptics, prostitutes, “professional beggars,” people with a history of mental illness, and anarchists; this is the first exclusion based on political beliefs since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Extends the period of time in which excludable immigrants can be deported to three years, and provides for the deportation of “any alien who becomes a public charge by reason of lunacy, idiocy, or epilepsy” within two years of arriving. Levies a head tax of $2. (The Act is renewed in 1907 with some amendments.)

1903: Bureau of Immigration is transferred to the newly created Department of Commerce and Labor.

1906: Naturalization Act. Establishes fixed fees and uniform naturalization forms, and makes knowledge of English a requirement. Changes the Bureau of Immigration to the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization.

1907: Expatriation Act. For the first time defines the citizenship of women married to foreigners. Women assume the citizenship of their husbands, and a woman with U.S. citizenship forfeits it if she marries a foreigner, unless he becomes naturalized. Repealed by the Married Women’s Act of 1922 (Cable Act).

1907: “Gentlemen’s Agreement” between the U.S. and Japanese governments. Japanese immigration, especially to California, increased following the Chinese Exclusion Act, as did anti-Japanese backlash. In order to avoid any U.S. legislation barring Japanese immigrants, Japan agrees to stop allowing its citizens to emigrate to the United States, and the United States agrees to continue allowing the entry of spouses and children of Japanese immigrants already present.

1913: California Alien Land Law (Webb-Haney Act). Prohibits “aliens ineligible to citizenship” from owning property in the state. This law is aimed principally at Asian immigrants, who are excluded from citizenship under the Naturalization Act of 1870.

1913: The Organic Act of the Department of Labor. Divides the Department of Commerce and Labor into separate departments; the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization is moved to the Department of Labor and divided into the Bureau of Immigration and the Bureau of Naturalization.

1917: Immigration Act (Asiatic Barred Zone Act). Denies entry to immigrants from the “Asiatic Barred Zone,” an area encompassing most of Asia and the Pacific Islands, excluding Japan and eastern China. (Chinese are already barred under the 1882 law, and the 1907 U.S.-Japan “Gentlemen’s Agreement” remains in effect.) Exceptions are made to allow the entry of professional, wealthy, and highly educated Asians. The Act also sets a literacy requirement for immigrants over sixteen and a head tax for entry into the country; it further expands the list of excludable people to cover “feeble-minded persons,” alcoholics, and all persons “mentally or physically defective.” The only two exceptions are people fleeing religious persecution and immediate family members of admissible foreign nationals.

1917: Jones-Shafroth Act (Jones Act). Extends U.S. citizenship to all citizens of Puerto Rico, although Puerto Ricans have the option to refuse U.S. citizenship for six months after the Act takes effect.

1921: Emergency Quota Act. Limits immigration to a total of about 350,000 a year, with no more from each country than 3 percent of the number of immigrants from that country living in the United States in 1910. This is intended to freeze immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe at the 1910 level.

1922: Supreme Court decision in Ozawa v. United States. Upholds the government’s power to deny naturalization to an Asian immigrant under the 1790 and 1795 laws.

1923: Supreme Court decision in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind. Denies citizenship rights to migrants from the Indian subcontinent who arrived in the United States before the Immigration Act of 1917 excluded them. The ruling led to the retroactive denaturalization of Indian Americans who had become citizens. In California, where many Punjabi immigrants had become farmers, this denaturalization subjected them to the Alien Land Law of 1913, which banned “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from ownership or long-term leasing of agricultural land.

1924: Immigration Act (National Origins Act, Johnson-Reed Act). Limits immigration to a total of about 165,000 a year through 1928, with no more from each country than 2 percent of the number of immigrants from that country living in the United States in 1890. (After 1927, the quotas are to be based on an estimate of the national origins of the entire U.S. population as of 1920.) Prohibits most immigration of people who are ineligible for citizenship, principally Asians. There is no numerical limit on immigration from independent countries in the Western Hemisphere, although legal immigration is restricted by entry rules including head taxes and literacy requirements. Effectively ends the U.S.-Japan “Gentlemen’s Agreement.” Specifies that immigrants who enter in violation of the Act can be deported “at any time after entering the United States,” and that immigrants have the “burden of proof” to show that they entered lawfully. Sets up the visa process for people seeking to enter the United States.

1924: Labor Appropriation Act. Establishes the Border Patrol under the Department of Labor, in part to prevent the smuggling of alcohol during Prohibition. The government recruits 450 people, mostly chosen from a list of applicants for jobs as federal railway postal clerks, to patrol the 1,950-mile border.

1929: Proclamation 1872. Implements the 1924 National Origins Act as amended by joint committees in 1927 and 1928, reducing the overall annual limit on immigration to 150,000. Quotas are now based on an estimate of the national origins of the entire U.S. population as of 1920 (as mandated in the 1924 Immigration Act), but excluding all people of African or indigenous descent, those with ancestry in Latin America, and Asians: “aliens ineligible to citizenship or their descendants.” Each country gets a minimum quota of 100; even the Asian countries, officially, although their citizens cannot use the quotas, since they remain barred. The United Kingdom now has more than one-third of the quota slots. Western Hemisphere nations remain exempt from the quota.

1929–1936: Mexican Repatriation. Between 500,000 and two million Mexicans and U.S.-born Mexican Americans are deported or forced to leave the United States.

1933: Executive Order 6166. Combines the Bureau of Immigration and the Bureau of Naturalization into the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The new agency remains in the Labor Department until President Roosevelt moves it into the Department of Justice in 1940.

1934: Philippine Independence Act (Tydings-McDuffie Act). Authorizes a ten-year process leading to independence for the Philippines. Ends the extension of U.S. nationality to Filipinos and sets an annual quota of fifty for Filipino immigration to the United States (except for Hawaii, then a U.S. territory). The Philippines become independent on July 4, 1946.

1940: Alien Registration Act (Smith Act). Requires the registration and fingerprinting of all foreigners in the United States over the age of fourteen. Provides for deportation of immigrants who “at the time of entering the United States, or … at any time thereafter” belonged to a group advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government.

1940: Nationality Act. Reaffirms restrictions on the naturalization of Asian immigrants and their descendants; only Filipinos who served honorably in the U.S. military are exempted. Restores the citizenship of women who lost their U.S. citizenship by marrying an alien.

1942-1964: Bracero” Program. Created to remedy an apparent shortage of agricultural and other workers during Second World War, the program expands through the middle 1950s. Although the program is intended as an alternative to the “revolving door” of unauthorized migration, the number of undocumented farmworkers increases dramatically during the period. The workers have 10 percent of their wages withheld for a trust fund, which mysteriously disappears; the Mexican government eventually agrees to reimburse the workers and their survivors early in the twenty-first century.

1943: Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act (Magnuson Act). Repeals several laws, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Limits entry to 105 Chinese people a year, based on the quota system established in 1924. Amends the 1940 Nationality Act to allow the naturalization of Chinese people and their descendants, but not other Asians.

1946: Luce Celler Act. Grants naturalization rights to Filipinos and Asian Indians, and allows 100 people a year from each of the two nationalities to immigrate.

1948: Displaced Persons Act. Temporary emergency legislation in response to the refugee crisis in Europe following the Second World War. Eventually brings in 399,698 refugees, who are counted against future national origins system quotas. President Truman objects that the bill effectively excludes “more than 90 percent of the remaining Jewish displaced persons” in Europe. He signs it only because the bill is passed on the last day of the congressional session and a refusal to sign would mean “there would be no legislation on behalf of displaced persons until the next session of the Congress.”

1952: Immigration and Nationality Act (McCarran-Walter Act). Consolidates earlier legislation into one act covering both immigration and naturalization. Passed at the height of the Cold War, the law maintains the basic quota system from the 1920s, with about 85 percent of the openings reserved for Northern and Western Europe. Residents of a colonial possession are limited to 100 of the slots in the possessing country’s annual quota; residents of the British West Indies colonies are especially affected. The Act continues and expands the exclusion of immigrants on grounds of health, criminal records, and “moral turpitude”; it maintains exclusions for political activities and now adds membership in the U.S. Communist Party and advocacy of “world communism” to the grounds for exclusion. For the first time naturalization is open to all races and ethnic groups. President Truman vetoes the bill, finding it discriminatory; Congress overrides his veto.

1953: Refugee Relief Act. Additional temporary measure in response to the European refugee crisis. Provides for up to 205,000 visas. Most are for European refugees and “escapees” from Communist countries, but there are up to 2,000 visas for Palestinians residing in the Middle East, and 7,000 for Asians. The Act expires at the end of 1956.

1954: Supreme Court decision in Galvan v. Press. Upholds the power of Congress to deport immigrants because of past membership, however brief, in the Communist Party. Justices Black and Douglas dissent; Black notes that the petitioner, a longtime U.S. resident, was a Communist Party member for just two years, at a time when the U.S. government recognized the party as “perfectly legal.”

1954: “Operation Wetback.” U.S. immigration officials, assisted by local authorities, launch a campaign to deport undocumented Mexican agricultural workers. Officials claim as many as 1.3 million Mexicans fled or were deported, but historians say the actual number is much lower. The operation’s goal is to force undocumented workers into the bracero program; the number of braceros in 1954 rises to 300,000, up from 200,000 the previous year.

1957: Refugee-Escapee Act. Among other measures, amends the 1953 Refugee Relief Act to allot a proportion of “special non-quota immigrant visas” to “refugees-escapees,” defined as anyone fleeing a “Communist-dominated, or Communist-occupied area,” or a country “within the general area of the Middle East,” for fear of persecution on the basis of race, religion, or political opinion.

1958: Hungarian Escape Act. Grants permanent status to nearly 40,000 Hungarians who had been allowed to enter the United States temporarily (“paroled,” in immigration jargon) as refugees after the Soviet-backed Hungarian government crushed a 1956 uprising.

1960: Fair Share Act. Grants the Attorney General authority to parole large groups of refugees. This addresses the continuing problem of Hungarian refugees and of others still living in displaced person camps after the Second World War.

1961: Immigration and Nationality Act. Amends the 1952 law to limit the judicial review of final orders of deportation to specific courts of appeals.

1962: Migration and Refugee Assistance Act. Provides funding for relief of refugees, including resettlement of people who “because of persecution or fear of persecution on account of race, religion, or political beliefs, fled from a nation or area of the Western Hemisphere”—a reference to Cubans opposing the leftist government that took power in Cuba in January 1959.

1965: Immigration and Nationality Act (Hart-Celler Act). Amends the 1952 INA to end the national origin quota system as of 1968; bars discrimination in the granting of visas based on “race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” The Act institutes a system of preferences mostly based on family relations to U.S. residents, with some preferences for professionals and people with special skills. It also includes the first formal restrictions on immigration from the Americas; starting in 1968 total immigration is limited to 170,000 year for the Eastern Hemisphere and 120,000 for the Western Hemisphere. Refugees are defined as people fleeing persecution in “any Communist or Communist-dominated country or area,” people fleeing persecution in a Middle Eastern country, or “persons uprooted by a catastrophic natural calamity”; the number of refugees is limited to 6 percent of total immigration. Epilepsy is removed from the list of grounds for exclusion, but “sexual deviation” is added.

1966: Cuban Adjustment Act. Allows Cuban immigrants to apply for permanent resident status if they were admitted or paroled into the United States after January 1, 1959, and have lived here for at least two years.

1968: Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967) signed by United States. The Protocol updates the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, which originally applied only to European refugees displaced by the Second World War; the United States never signed the 1951 Convention.

1980: Refugee Act. Trades the anti-communist definition of a refugee for the humanitarian definition laid out in the 1967 UN Protocol. Distinguishes refugees (people who apply for refugee status from another country) from asylum seekers (people who apply for asylum after arriving in the United States). Allows acceptance of about 50,000 refugees and 5,000 asylum seekers; the president can expand the numbers in an emergency situation if there are “grave humanitarian concerns” or the expansion “is otherwise in the national interest.” Allows the attorney general to parole immigrants into the country but only for “compelling reasons in the public interest.” Reduces from two years to one the wait for Cubans to gain residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act.

1980: Mariel Boatlift. Some 130,000 Cubans land in Florida in a “freedom flotilla” from the Cuban port of Mariel; President Carter paroles them into the United States and allows them to apply for asylum. Some 25,000 Haitians arrive in Florida at about the same time and are also paroled into the United States; most are not granted asylum. A clause in the 1986 IRCA eventually allows “Cuban/Haitian entrants (status pending)” to seek permanent residence.

1982: Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe. Strikes down a Texas law denying public funding for the education of undocumented immigrants. The decision is based on the “equal protection of the laws” requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment; it notes that undocumented children are not responsible for their immigration status.

1986: Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). Allows undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States since before 1982 to apply for legal residence; same provisions for people who worked ninety days in agriculture in the year ending May 1, 1986. Requires employers to obtain proof of work eligibility from all new hires and establishes penalties for employers who hire undocumented immigrants (“employer sanctions”). Mandates a 50 percent increase in the number of Border Patrol personnel. Establishes “diversity visas,” also known as the “visa lottery,” for 1987 and 1988 for countries with low immigration levels.

1990: Immigration Act. Modifies number of immigrants admitted (worldwide and by country); modifies asylum requirements and family preference requirements. Establishes “Family Unity” to defer deportation for children and spouses of legalized immigrants (mostly those legalized through the 1986 IRCA). Institutes Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants if the U.S. government has designated their countries as unsafe. Makes the diversity visa permanent; creates a new visa category for up to 10,000 immigrants a year who invest at least $1 million in “a new commercial enterprise.” “Sexual deviation” is removed from the list of grounds for exclusion.

1994: FY1995 Commerce, Justice, State (CJS) Appropriations Act. Adds section 245(i) to INA; this provides a temporary process allowing some out-of-status immigrants to pay a fine and apply for adjustment of status without leaving the United States. Affects applicants with residency petitions sponsored by an employer or by immediate family members who are citizens or permanent residents.

1994: Cuba-U.S. Joint Communiqué (“Wet Foot Dry Foot”). Cubans who reach land in the United States are admitted to the country, but Cubans who are intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard while at sea will be returned to Cuba.

1994: California Proposition 187. California voters approve a state referendum mandating laws against the use of false immigration documents and cutting off state funding for all “public social services,” “publicly funded healthcare” (including prenatal care), and public education (including elementary and secondary education) for undocumented immigrants. Teachers and health workers are required to turn in their students and patients suspected of being undocumented. Federal courts strike down parts, notably those affecting education (which violate the 1982 Plyler v. Doe decision) and healthcare.

1996: Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). Allows exclusion or deportation of foreigners supporting organizations that the president designates as terrorist; the government can use secret evidence in the deportation process. Expands the list of “crimes of moral turpitude” that can result in deportation.

1996: Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). Drastically reduces public assistance for lawful permanent residents who entered the United States after August 1996, including food stamps, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid; bars federal welfare funding for undocumented immigrants.

1996: Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). Cuts filing deadline for asylum cases to one year; allows immigration officers to deny entry to asylum applicants. Introduces “expedited removal,” which authorizes immigration officers in many situations to order a foreigner deported without a hearing before an immigration judge. Drastically increases the number of crimes for which a legal resident can be deported. Makes detention mandatory for immigrants convicted of certain crimes. Expands the Border Patrol. Makes it harder to qualify for suspension of deportation, now renamed “cancellation of removal.”

1997: Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA). Allows Nicaraguans and Cubans to apply for permanent residence; gives some out-of-status Guatemalans, Salvadorans, and former Soviet bloc nationals a chance to seek suspension of deportation under pre-1996 rules.

1997: Flores v. Reno settlement. Mandates specific protections for unaccompanied minors in immigration custody; when possible, the minors are to be released to a sponsor or a shelter and provided with support services. Some of the binding settlement’s rules are codified into law with the passage of the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protections Reauthorization Act.

1998: Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA). Allows nearly 50,000 Haitians to seek permanent residence under a process similar to that granted to Cubans and Nicaraguans under NACARA.

1999: Supreme Court decision in ADC v. Reno (Los Angeles Eight). Rules that immigrants can be deported based on their political affiliations and do not have the right to challenge such selective targeting in federal court, or to find out the government’s reasons for targeting them.

2000: Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act (LIFE Act). Extends deadline for filing section 245(i) applications from January 14, 1998 to April 30, 2001; 245(i) is no longer available after that date. Grants “late amnesty” to plaintiffs in class action suits whose legalization applications under IRCA were unfairly denied. Creates a temporary “V” visa allowing spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents to enter the country if they’ve been waiting more than three years for a green card. Permanently expands visa options for family members and fiancés and fiancées of U.S. citizens.

2000: Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act (Title V of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act). Expands access to relief for battered immigrant women, and creates the “U” non-immigrant visa for victims of domestic violence, trafficking, slavery, and certain other crimes who cooperate with law enforcement, allowing them to gain permanent residency in some cases.

2001: Supreme Court decision in Zadvydas v. Davis. Holds that immigrants cannot be detained indefinitely if they are ordered deported but have no country to return to; detention in these cases generally should not exceed six months.

2001: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act. Amends the 1952 INA to expand the definition of non-citizens who are inadmissible or deportable for terrorism-related reasons. These reasons now include espousal of terrorism, association with foreign or domestic terrorist organizations, or family relationship (being the child or spouse of a terrorism suspect). Whether an organization is terrorist is determined by the Secretary of State without any procedural safeguards. The Attorney General can now order the detention and deportation of any alien suspected of terrorism; the suspect is only able to challenge the detention through a habeas corpus suit, with limited opportunities to appeal.

2002: National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). A program initiated by the Department of Justice in 2002 and taken over by the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. All males sixteen years old or older who are on temporary non-immigrant visas and come from a list of twenty-five countries are required to register at immigration offices, where they are fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated. All but one of the listed countries have predominantly Muslim populations. More than 80,000 non-citizens are registered, thousands are deported, and no terrorists are identified. The program is not used after April 2011 and is terminated on December 23, 2016, following a grassroots campaign to dismantle it.

2002: Homeland Security Act. Creates the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In March 2003, the INS is dismantled and its functions are moved into separate DHS agencies, the names of which are later clarified as Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The Act transfers responsibility for unaccompanied minors to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), and confirms that the Flores Settlement Agreement terms apply to the new agencies.

2005: Supreme Court decision in consolidated cases of Clark v. Martinez and Benitez v. Rozos. Extends the logic of the Zadvydas ruling to “inadmissible” detainees, limiting their detention. The plaintiffs are Cubans who were paroled into the United States at the time of the 1980 Mariel boatlift.

2005: REAL ID Act. Approved as part of an Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act. Imposes federal standards on states for issuing driver’s licenses and other identification documents. Expands terrorism-related grounds for deeming aliens inadmissible. Makes it more difficult to win political asylum. Impedes the use of habeas corpus and limits judicial review in challenges to removal orders (although not to detention). Expands technological and communications infrastructure in border enforcement, and increases the Department of Homeland Security’s waiver authority to construct barriers along the border. Includes the “Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2005,” which makes available more H-2B temporary worker visas.

2005: HR 4437 (Sensenbrenner Bill). The House of Representatives tries to criminalize out-of-status immigrants by lumping together unlawful presence with “illegal entry,” increasing the maximum sentence to a year and a day, and turning the crime into a felony. The bill, which also would have criminalized humanitarian support for undocumented immigrants, sparks mass protests by millions of immigrants in the spring of 2006. In May 2006, the Senate passes the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (S. 2611), which includes limited amnesty provisions providing certain categories of unauthorized immigrants with a path to citizenship. The two incompatible bills die in conference.

2006: Secure Fence Act. Authorizes the construction of nearly 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, along with an “interlocking surveillance camera system” in one sector.

2008: William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. Strengthens provisions of the Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act of 2000. Codifies into law some of the Flores v. Reno settlement rules for the protection of unaccompanied minors.

2009: DHS Appropriations Act for FY 2010. Requires immigration authorities to “maintain a level of not less than 33,400 detention beds.” This is the first time Congress has set a quota for the number of detention beds; the number rises to 34,000 by 2015.

2010: Supreme Court ruling in Padilla v. Kentucky. Allows some immigrants who plead guilty to a criminal offense to challenge the resulting removal order if their attorney failed to properly inform them that their plea would result in deportation.

2012: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). President Obama issues an executive order allowing undocumented people under age thirty-one who came here before their sixteenth birthdays to apply for a two-year renewable work permit and a reprieve from deportation. To qualify, applicants must be in or have completed school or military service, and must have no significant criminal record. Some 1.2 million young people are estimated to be eligible for the program.

2014: Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA). President Obama proposes a three-year deferment and work permit for many undocumented parents with children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. DAPA and a proposed DACA expansion are blocked by a deadlocked Supreme Court in 2016.

 

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