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U.S. Amnesties for
Illegal Aliens

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Congress has passed 7 amnesties for illegal aliens, starting in 1986.

1. Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA) Amnesty, 1986: A blanket amnesty for some 2.7 million illegal aliens

2. Section 245(i) Amnesty, 1994: A temporary rolling amnesty for 578,000 illegal aliens

3. Section 245(i) Extension Amnesty, 1997: An extension of the rolling amnesty created in 1994

4. Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) Amnesty, 1997: An amnesty for close to one million illegal aliens from Central America

5. Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act Amnesty (HRIFA), 1998: An amnesty for 125,000 illegal aliens from Haiti

6. Late Amnesty, 2000: An amnesty for some illegal aliens who claim they should have been amnestied under the 1986 IRCA amnesty, an estimated 400,000 illegal aliens

7. LIFE Act Amnesty, 2000: A reinstatement of the rolling Section 245(i) amnesty, an estimated 900,000 illegal aliens

8. Nine current bills are vying to be Amnesty No. 8

What is Amnesty?

Amnesties are all too common legislative efforts to forgive the breaking of immigration laws and to make it possible for illegal aliens to live permanently in the United States. Amnesties represent a system of federal rewards and assistance for illegal migrants, and they entice an even greater number of illegal migrants. Census 2000 results indicate that 700,000 to 800,000 illegal aliens settle in the U.S. each year, with an estimated 8-11 million illegal aliens currently living in the United States.

According to INS estimates released in October, 2000, the amnesties granted in 1986 as a result of the Immigration Reform and Control Act significantly contributed to an increase in illegal immigration as the relatives of newly legalized illegal immigrants came illegally to the United States to join their family members. In the decade following the 1986 amnesty, illegal immigration increased dramatically.

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Past Amnesties

No. 1- Immigration Reform and Control Act Amnesty of 1986:
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) was enacted by Congress in response to the large and rapidly growing illegal alien population in the United States. The final bill was the result of a dramatic compromise between those who wanted to reduce illegal immigration into the United States and those who wanted to "wipe the slate clean" for those illegals already living here by granting them legal residence. As enacted, IRCA included a massive amnesty program for two main categories of illegal aliens:

1) those who could show that they had resided illegally in the United States continuously since at least January 1, 1982; and

2) those who had worked as agricultural workers for at least 90 days between May 1, 1985 and May 1, 1986.

As a "balance" to this huge amnesty, IRCA also included several provisions designed to: strengthen the enforcement of immigration laws (including sanctions for employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens); increase border controls; and create a program to verify the immigration status of aliens applying for certain welfare benefits.

The IRCA amnesty has been tied to terrorism. Mahmud Abouhalima, a leader of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was legalized as a seasonal agricultural worker as part of the 1986 IRCA amnesty. This allowed him to travel abroad, including several trips to Afghanistan, where he received terrorist training. Read the full report.

NOTE: In the 1990 Immigration Act, an additional 160,000 spouses and minor children of aliens amnestied under IRCA were granted amnesty as well. These 160,000 aliens are not included in the total numeric impact of the amnesty.

In addition, another 350,000 illegal aliens who were initially disqualified from the 1986 IRCA amnesty because they had traveled abroad while in the U.S. illegally may qualify for amnesty under proposed settlements in lawsuits resulting after the 1986 amnesty.

The 10-year impact of both the SAW and general amnesty in the Immigration Reform and Control Act was 2,684,892. For the computation of the total number of immigrants to be added by this amnesty, click here.

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No. 2 - Section 245(i) Amnesty of 1994
Section 245(i) was added to immigration law when Congress passed this de facto amnesty as part of the FY 1995 Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations bill. Section 245(i) went into effect at the beginning of FY 1995 and was scheduled to sunset at the end of FY 1997 (Sep. 30, 1997).

In nearly all cases, a person must be an illegal alien to benefit from Section 245(i). There are two major kinds of illegal aliens who benefit: (1) Those who entered the country illegally. (2) Those who entered legally on visas but then violated the terms of their visa. Read what Section 245(i) actually does.

The INS estimates that at the end of FY 1997, Section 245(i) applications had resulted in an increase of 578,000 in the adjustment of status application backlog. This does not include Section 245(i) applicants whose status had already been adjusted as the INS does not track that separately.

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No. 3 - Section 245(i) Extension Amnesty of 1997
President Clinton twice signed continuing resolutions to extend the September 30, 1997 expiration date of Section 245(i). The first continuing resolution extended the deadline until October 23, 1997 and the second continuing resolution extended Section 245(i) until November 7, 1997. Section 245(i) was then further extended until January 14, 1998 by Congress as part of the conference report to H.R. 2267.

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No. 4 - NACARA Amnesty of 1997
The Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) is an amnesty program for certain Nicaraguans and Cubans, and a de facto amnesty for certain Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Eastern Europeans.

The original bills that were introduced in the House and the Senate, H.R. 2302 and S. 1976, would have benefited only certain Nicaraguans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans. Cubans and Eastern Europeans were added later to mollify the anti-Communist sentiments of some members of Congress. At the same time, opponents of the amnesty tried to negotiate a requirement that the number of aliens granted legal residence under NACARA be subtracted from legal immigration ceilings, but managed only to secure minor reductions in the unskilled worker and lottery categories. In order to avoid lengthy debate on the costs and benefits of the amnesty and to ensure adequate support for it, the bill language was added as an amendment to the appropriations bill for the District of Columbia (H.R. 2607) and passed as part of that bill.

Nicaraguans and Cubans who have lived in the United States illegally since 1995, along with their spouses and unmarried children, were automatically granted legal resident status under NACARA, as long as they apply by April 1, 2000.

The 10-year impact of the NACARA Amnesty on U.S. population growth is estimated to be 966,480. For the computation of the total number of immigrants to be added by this amnesty, click here.

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No. 5 - HRIFA Amnesty of 1998
The Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA) is an amnesty program for Haitians. It was passed in the aftermath of the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA), when representatives of a long list of nationalities not included in NACARA claimed that it was discriminatory to refuse them the same special treatment. Haitians are the first group to succeed with this claim. As with NACARA, proponents of HRIFA sought to avoid a full congressional debate of the bill and so added it as an amendment to the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 1999 (H.R. 4328), which was passed by both houses of Congress.

HRIFA grants permanent resident status to any Haitians who have been in the United States since December 1995, along with their spouses and children, as long as they apply before April 1, 2000. Haitians granted amnesty under HRIFA will not be counted against legal immigration ceilings, and no legal immigration ceilings will be reduced to make up for the extra number of permanent immigrants.

The 10-year impact of the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act on U.S. Population growth is estimated to be 125,000. For the computation of the total number of immigrants to be added by this amnesty, click here.

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No. 6 - Late Amnesty of 2000
This amnesty was the result of an agreement between the Clinton White House, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. The "late amnesty" allowed all illegal aliens who had been part of lawsuits claiming that they have been illegal aliens since before 1982 and should have received amnesty under the 1986 IRCA amnesty but for various reasons were denied, to renew their request for the amnesty.

The Late Amnesty of 2000 is expected to apply to an estimated 400,000 illegal aliens.

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No. 7- LIFE Act Amnesty of 2000
The LIFE Act of 2000 that was passed in December, 2000 reinstated Section 245(i) for the first four months of 2001 (Jan-April).

The House Immigration Subcommittee estimates that 900,000 aliens applied for adjustment of status in the first full year of the reinstatement.

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Current bills vying to become Amnesty No. 8:
Democratic Presidential canidate John Kerry, as well as President Bush, have endorsed various forms of amnesty for illegal aliens. Click here to read more about Senator Kerry's immigration positions. Click here to read more about President Bush's guest worker-amnesty proposal.

S. 1461\H.R. 2899, Border Security and Immigration Improvement Act
This bill would create a legalization process for almost all illegal aliens who will then be eligible for green cards after 6 years. Under the provisions of S. 1461\H.R. 2899, an illegal alien would receive a 3-year H-4B visa. At the end of 3 years, the alien can adjust to an H-4A "guestworker" visa, valid for 3 years. Following this second 3-year period (a total of 6 years), the alien can self-petition for a green card. However, an employer can petition for a green card for any H-4A visa holder after the first three years.

H.R. 3142\S. 1645, Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act of 2003
H.R. 3142 would create a guestworker program that leads to amnesty for certain agricultural workers. The potential recipients of the amnesty will be required to prove 100 days of agricultural employment in the 18-month period that ended Aug. 31, 2003. Then, prior to receiving amnesty, workers would have to show 360 days of additional farm work over the next six years.

S. 1387, Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2003
S. 1387 would create a temporary guest-worker program for ilegal aliens with an amnesty-on-installment program. After working in the U.S. for three years, the illegal alien guestworkers would be required to return to their home country in order to apply for a green card. At that point the alien would, in most cases, be rewarded with a green card and an amnesty from the usual penalty of not being able to return to the U.S. for 10 years after illegally being in the U.S.

S. 2010, the Immigration Reform Act of 2004
S. 2010 provides for up to 350,000 aliens to enter the U.S. as temporary workers under the "Willing Worker Program." These temporary visas are renewable and "willing workers" and their families will be able to adjust to permanent resident status under the provisions of S. 2010. S. 2010 would bring in an unlimited number of new immigrants by removing immediate family of non-citizen immigrants from under the current numerical cap. Furthermore, S. 2010 would grant an amnesty to millions of illegal aliens. Illegal aliens who lived in the U.S. for at least five years before January 2004 can apply for amnesty if they have been employed for at least three of those five years. At least six million illegal aliens are estimated to be eligible for this amnesty.

S. 1545 , Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2003 and H.R. 1684, Student Adjustment Act of 2003
A bill to grant in-state college tuition rates and amnesty to illegal aliens under the age of 21 who have been physically present in the country for five years and are in 7th grade or above.

H.R. 3271, Earned Legalization and Family Unification Act of 2003
A bill to grant amnesty to an estimated 6.5 million illegal aliens who have lived continuously in the U.S. for five years prior to enactment of the bill. In addition, H.R. 3271 would eliminate the annual cap on family-based legal immigration, increasing chain migration by about 250,000 a year.

H.R. 1300, Central American Security Act
A bill to extend the massive NACARA amnesty for Nicaraguans and Cubans to up to 2.3 million illegal aliens from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

H.R. 2843 , Andean Adjustment Act of 2003
H.R. 2843 would reward illegal aliens from Peru and Colombia with amnesty, provided they have been in the U.S. since December 31st, 1999.

S. 8 , the Educational Excellence for All Learners Act of 2003
A bill that primarily deals with education resources, but contains a hidden provision that would repeal the federal bar against in-state tuition for illegal aliens, as well as one that gives amnesty to certain illegal aliens who have gone to school in the United States.

Votes on Amnesties that have
not become law:

S. 778
S. 778, the Section 245(i) Extension Act of 2001,would have allowed for a one year extension of the Section 245(i) amnesty by extending the filing deadline until April 30, 2002. The eligibility requirement to apply for a Section 245(i) adjustment of status under S. 778 is January 14, 1998.

S. 778 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a voice vote

H.R. 1885
Introduced by Rep. George Gekas (R-PA), H.R. 1885 would have again extended the reinstatement of Section 245(i) that was included in the LIFE Act of 2000 four months past the current deadline of April 30, 2001.

H.R. 1885 passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 336 - 43 in May, 2001.

H. Res. 365
H. Res. 365 is a version of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 that originally passed the House of Representatives as H.R. 3525 in December of 2001. But under heavy pressure from the Bush Administration, an extension of the Section 245(i) amnesty was added to the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 and it was again voted on as H. Res. 365. would extend the Section 245(i) amnesty until November 30, 2002, with an eligibility cut off date of August 15, 2001.

H. Res. 365 passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 275 - 137.

Farr amendment to H.R. 4775
Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) introduced the Farr Amendment to H.R. 4775, a supplemental appropriations bill. The Farr Amendment would have re-instated the Section 245(i) amnesty for four months, with the same provisions as those contained in H. Res. 365. Rep. Farr's amendment was offered as a substitute amendment to the Serrano Amendment for a permanent 245(i) extenstion.

The House Appropriations Committee voted against the Farr Amendment by a vote of 27 - 32.

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Until 1986, the United States had never forgiven the act of illegal immigration in other than individual cases and had never rewarded large numbers of illegal aliens with the opportunity for U.S. citizenship.

Polls show most Americans oppose amnesty

Americans oppose amnesty nearly 2 to 1. Hispanics are less likely to reelect President Bush if he supports amnesty.
Zobgy Poll, Sep. 01

Nearly 70% of Americans oppose amnesty,
for all illegal aliens
Gallup Poll , Aug. 01

61% of Americans oppose giving amnesty
to illegal aliens
Harris Poll, Aug. 01



 Copyright 2005, Reprinted with permission.