NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Deportation Procedures Too Tough?

December 21, 1999

Some legal theorists are arguing that changes to the nation's deportation laws made by Congress in 1996 have resulted in unduly harsh treatment of some immigrants. That year, Congress expanded the types of crimes that can result in deportation -- including some nonviolent offenses such as felony shoplifting.

The changes also prohibit those convicted of aggravated felonies from applying for deportation waivers and permit people to be deported even if they committed their crimes decades ago and have served their sentences.

  • The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service deported 62,359 immigrants with criminal records in the 1999 fiscal year.
  • That represents an increase of 72 percent since Congress changed the law.
  • There are no figures available concerning how many of the deportees were guilty of less serious crimes, but those familiar with the debate estimate their numbers run only into the hundreds annually.

Several bills to amend the law have been introduced in the House and forwarded to a Judiciary Committee panel headed by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). While he agrees that the law, at times, has been enforced unfairly, he is opposed to amending it. Smith maintains that the Department of Justice and the INS can address the problem by choosing not to pursue deportation claims against immigrants convicted of less serious crimes.

The INS is preparing a new policy on handling deportation cases involving less serious crimes, but agency officials say they would prefer Congress to revise the law.

Source: Eric Lipton, "As More Are Deported, a '96 Law Faces Scrutiny," New York Times, December 21, 1999.


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