Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act

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The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) strengthened U.S. immigration laws, increasing penalties for undocumented immigrants who commit crimes while in the United States or who stay in the U.S. for statutorily defined periods of time. 

The Act was designed to improve border controls and streamline the deportation process. This partially was achieved by greatly increasing the penalties for and the types of crimes that prevent someone from immigrating to the U.S. such as for racketeering, smuggling undocumented persons, and the use or creation of fraudulent immigration-related documents. The Act also allows for the deportation of undocumented immigrants who commit a misdemeanor or a felony. Further, the Act added restrictions on applying for asylum like requiring a petition for asylum be made within a year of arriving in the U.S.

The Act mandates that immigrants who are unlawfully present in the U.S. for 180 days but under 365 days must remain outside the United States for three years unless pardoned. If they remain in the United States for 365 days or more, they must stay outside the United States for ten years unless they obtain a waiver. However, if they return to the U.S. without the pardon, they must wait 10 years until they may apply for a waiver.

For more on IIRIRA, see this Center for Migration Studies article.

To see the text of the Act, click here.

[Last updated in March of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]