Bloggings: Bill Clinton Calls For Overturning DOMA. What About IIRIRA? By Roger Algase
In a March 7 Washington Post oped, former President Bill Clinton called on the US Supreme Court to declare the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars same sex spouses from receiving federal benefits (including green cards) available to spouses in opposite sex marriages, unconstitutional. Clinton said that 1996, when he signed DOMA, "was a very different time". He also stated:
"On March 27, DOMA will come before the Supreme Court, and the justices must decide whether it is consistent with the principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all, and is therefore constitutional. As the president who signed the act into law, I have come to believe that DOMA is contrary to those principles and, in fact, incompatible with our Constitution."
DOMA is not the only law that President Clinton signed in 1996 that adversely affects the immigration rights of many people. In that same year, he also signed IIRIRA, the so-called Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which has denied the same rights of freedom, equality and justice to tens or hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of immigrants and would be immigrants over the past 16 years (after taking effect in 1997).
As mentioned in another one ot this writer's recent comments, IIRIRA, among other things, provides for the mandatory deportation of lawful permanent residents for many minor crimes labeled as "aggravated felonies" under the immigration laws, even if they are considered low level misdemeanors in the state where the person is convicted.
I know personally of one such case, in which a long standing green card holder, who had a successful professional practice and had never had any other problems with the law, was deported under IIRIRA because of an incident which resulted in his having to pay a $100 fine, without any jail sentence.
How many other thousands of otherwise law abiding immigrants, living in the US legally for many years, have also been caught up in the maze of this draconian provision and been forced back to their countries of origin, never to return, for minor offenses which would only earn American citizens a slap on the wrist at the most?
And what about IIRIRA's draconian "unlawful presence" bars, and its court stripping provisions that make it difficult or impossible to challenge arbitrary decisions by immigration officers? If America has changed in its attitudes toward same sex relationships since 1996, as it certainly has, has it not also changed demographically? Who could have imagined in 1996 that the US would have an African-American president and that presidential elections would be determined by the Latino vote less than two decades later?
To put it another way, hate against minorities, whether with respect to sexual orientation or with respect to race, was a more "acceptable" part of America's political culture in 1996 than it is now. This is why both DOMA and IIRIRA were passed and signed that year. As Bill Clinton states, there is no longer any place for DOMA in 21st century America. The same is true of IIRIRA.