Under federal law, illegal presence in the United States is punishable by removal and a 3-year bar from re-entry for aliens illegally present for longer than 180 days and less than 1 year, or a 10-year bar from re-entry for aliens illegally present for longer than 1 year. Illegal aliens who had been previously removed, but are found illegally present again are permanently inadmissible.
Aliens can become illegally present in the United States in one of two ways: 1) illegal or fraudulent entry into the country or 2) overstay of a legal visit. Illegal aliens who illegally or fraudulently enter also face criminal penalties, including jail time and/or fines.
NumbersUSA defines any attempt by the federal government to offer legal presence and work permits to a group of illegal aliens an amnesty.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) amnesty was announced by Pres. Barack Obama on June 15, 2012. The illegal and unconstitutional executive amnesty granted deferred action and work permits to young illegal aliens who met the following conditions:
- Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;
- Continuously resided in the United States since at least June 15, 2007 and were present in the United States on June 15, 2012;
- Currently in school, graduated from high school, obtained a general education development certificate, or honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
- Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses (committed on separate days), or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;
- Are not above the age of thirty.
June 12, 2012 -- Pres. Obama announces Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals amnesty program.
November 20, 2014 -- Pres. Obama announces the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) amnesty program that would grant an estimated 5 million illegal aliens deferred action and work permits and extended the DACA amnesty from 2 year to 3 year periods.
December 2015 -- Texas, and 26 other states, sued the Obama Administration over the DAPA amnesty program and the DACA expansion
February 16, 2015 -- Federal Judge Andrew Hanen issues a temporary stay, halting the implementation of DAPA and the expansion of DACA
June 16, 2015 -- Donald Trump launches his presidential bid for 2016 and says, "I will immediately terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration."
August 31, 2016 -- After securing enough delegates to win the GOP nomination for president, Trump delivers an immigration policy speech in Phoenix, Ariz. where he says, if elected, his administration will "immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties, in which he defied federal law and the constitution to give amnesty to approximately 5 million illegal immigrants."
September 15, 2017 -- The Trump administration announces that it would stop adjudicating new DACA applications and stop adjudicating DACA renewals that expire on or before March 5, 2018 on October 5, 2017, effectively ending the program. Pres. Trump gives Congress a 6-month deadline to pass a permanent solution for DACA recipients.
January 9, 2018 -- Federal Judge William Alsup issues a nationwide preliminary injunction on Trump’s halting of the DACA program. The Court orders the administration to "maintain the DACA program on a nationwide basis on the same terms and conditions as were in effect before the rescission on September 5, 2017, including allowing those who already benefit from DACA to apply to renew their status."
January 13, 2018 -- USCIS announces that, in light of Judge Alsup's ruling, it will restart the process of adjudicating DACA renewal applications.
January 16, 2018 -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially appeals Judge Alsup's ruling to the Supreme Court.
January 19, 2018 -- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats vote against a spending bill because it lacks a DACA amnesty, beginning a three-day government shutdown.
January 23, 2018 -- Senate Democrats vote to reopen the government until Feb. 8 after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promises to open the Senate floor for an immigration debate after Feb. 8, if the government remains funded, if no DACA deal is reached before then.
February 12, 2018 -- Senators begin a week-long debate over DACA, but fail to reach an agreement after three DACA amnesty bills fail to receive the 60 votes needed for passage.
Seven Amnesties Passed by Congress
Since the passing of the Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA), 6 million illegal aliens have received amnesty in the United States. The IRCA Amnesty was supposed to "wipe the slate clean" and instead it's lead to the current situation of 12-20 million illegal aliens living in the country.
Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA), 1986 also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act for 2.7 million illegal aliens
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:
- those who could show that they had resided illegally in the United States continuously since at least January 1, 1982; and
- 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.
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. The computation for the total number of immigrants to be added by this amnesty can be found on this chart.
Late Amnesty, 2000: An amnesty for 478,000 illegal aliens who claim they should have been amnestied under the 1986 IRCA amnesty.
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.
Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 245(i) Amnesty, 1994: A temporary rolling amnesty for 578,000 illegal aliens
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 and (2) those who entered legally on visas but then violated the terms of their visa.
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.
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.
LIFE ACT Amnesty, 2000: A reinstatement of the rolling Section 245(i) amnesty
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.
Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) Amnesty, 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. The computation of the total number of immigrants to be added by this amnesty can be found in this report.
Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act Amnesty (HRIFA), 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. The computation of the total number of immigrants to be added by this amnesty can be found in this report.