President Bill Clinton's Immigration Policy

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  • 0:04 History of Immigration
  • 1:23 Bill Clinton:…
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Instructor: Mary Ruth Sanders Bracy

Mary Ruth teaches college history and has a PhD.

This lesson will discuss President Bill Clinton's immigration policies. During the Clinton administration, the United States took a tough stance on illegal immigration without doing much to reform the legal immigration system.

The History of Immigration

In his 1995 State of the Union speech, President Bill Clinton said, ''We are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws.'' So, what did President Clinton do during his time in office to deal with immigration policy? This lesson will answer that question.

The United States is indeed a nation of immigrants, and immigration has been a major theme throughout American history. Each American president has had to address immigration in one form or another.

The Immigration Act of 1882 was the first piece of legislation regulating immigration. Ever since then, the government has passed laws to deal with both types of immigration into the United States: legal and illegal. Legal immigrants work through the established immigration system, while illegal immigrants enter the country in secret.

The number of illegal immigrants entering the United States increased throughout the twentieth century. By the time President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, it had become a significant issue. As the economy grew, so did the job market, and many immigrants came to the United States looking for work.

The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated that there were more than three million illegal immigrants in the United States as of 1994.

Bill Clinton: Immigration Policy

Most of President Clinton's immigration policies focused on addressing the problems of illegal immigration. Prior to his election, a 1990 law had tried to address some of issues in the legal immigration system, but once Clinton took office, he focused on addressing the public fear of illegal immigration by putting limits on what illegal immigrants could and could not do.

The most important piece of immigration legislation that President Bill Clinton signed was the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996, which expanded upon the types of offenses for which illegal immigrants could be immediately deported. Previously, most immigrants would not be deported unless they committed a violent crime, such as assault or murder. However, under this new law, illegal immigrants who were caught engaging in even a minor offense could face immediate deportation. This law also expanded immigration enforcement and set harsher penalties for crimes related to immigration. Additionally, immigrants awaiting deportation could be held in jail awaiting trial indefinitely, a provision of the law that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2001. Immigration restrictions could also be found in two other laws passed in 1996. Let's look at each of these laws a little more closely.

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