One of the most pervasive myths of recent immigration history is the revisionist notion that the bigoted 1996 Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which includes expedited removal and a host of other provisions intended to reduce legal, as well as illegal immigration from outside Europe, was "Bill Clinton's law" or that President Clinton was responsible for its drafting or otherwise inspiring Donald Trump's white supremacist immigration agenda 20 years later. See, for example, Huffington Post (March 28, 2017

Bill Clinton Laid Groundwork For Trump's Ugly Immigration Policies

For anyone who knows anything about the legislative history of IIRIRA, this is very far from the historical reality. The fact is that IIRIRA was drafted almost entirely by the two leading anti-immigrant Republicans in Congress, Sen. Alan Simpson (Wyoming) and Rep. Lamar Smith (Texas).

The bill was passed by a Republican-controlled Congress, without any real discussion or debate in the dead of night on or about September 30,1996

The entire bill was added at the last moment as a rider to a "must pass" military and government appropriations bill, which President Clinton had no choice but to sign, since that year's presidential election was only slightly over a month away.

If President Clinton had vetoed IIRIRA, he would have had to veto the entire appropriations package. This would have given the Republicans endless election talking points about how the president was to blame for causing a budget crisis and depriving America's troops of essential funding.


In other words, the Republicans who wrote and passed this law did everything in there power to ram it through without a veto. To say that this law was "Clinton's law" is a little like saying that someone who hands over his wallet to a mugger pointing a gun at his head was making a "voluntary charitable donation."

What was the real motivation for IIRIRA? It was, in very large part due to a racially motivated white "backlash" against the great increase in immigration from outside Europe in the three decades since enactment of the landmark 1965 immigration reform law. See, POLITICO Magazine:(August 20 2016):

The 1965 Law That Gave the Republican Party Its Race Problem

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/08/immigration-1965-law--donald-trump-gop-214179

First, let us take a closer look at how IIRIRA was drafted

Frank Sharry of the immigrant advocacy group America's Voice describes this in a 2017 Drexel Law Review article;

Backlash, Big Stakes and Bad Laws

9 Drexel Law Review, 269 (2017)

Sharry writes:

"The 1994 election also ushered in the Gingrich Republican Revolution, which resulted in new chairs of the Senate and House subcommittees with primary jurisdiction over immigration: Senator Alan Simpson and Representative Lamar Smith. Each of them proposed a slightly different vehicle intended to achieve the same overarching objective: namely the elimination of legal immigration in the United States altogether..."

As Sharry then goes on to explain in great detail, it was there proposals that ultimately became the final version of IIRIRA. Why were the Republicans so eager to eliminate, or vastly reduce, immigration to the US in all its forms, legal as well as illegal?

The answer is clear. Just as the above POLITICO story explains, the Republicans had never fully accepted the 1965 reform law what ended four decades of limiting immigration mainly to white people form northern Europe.- the same people whom Donald Trump when he proposed to limit immigration to people from "Countries like Norway" at January 18, 2018 White House meeting.

It is also easy to forget or overlook the influence of overtly racist propagandists such as Peter Brimelow (himself an immigrant) whose book Alien Nation, warning that America was facing destruction from waves of nonwhite immigrants was very popular..


See the New York Times April 16, 1995 review of Brimelow's book:

Too Many Foreigners

https://www.nytimes.com/1995/04/16/books-too-many-foreigners.html?intref=www.google.com

Yes, to be sure, President Clinton, as well as some other Democrats did make some statements advocated tighter enforcement against illegal immigration.

Clinton's legacy will also be forever tarnished by the fact that he was unable to find the courage to veto the omnibus appropriations package that included IIRIRA - just as Nancy Pelosi is evidently too scared of Donald Trump and his supporters to bring impeachment proceedings based on his racist immigration agenda today, more than 20 years later.

But this is a far cry from making the distorted suggestion that IIRIRA was President Clinton's idea, or that he was responsible for drafting this legislation and ramming it through a GOP controlled Congress.

He was not. This was, from start to finish, a Republican, white supremacist law.


Roger Algase
Attorney at Law