Describing the criminal alien provisions being reviewed by the Supreme Court this week, the American Civil Liberties Union's Web site calls them "anti-immigrant laws" that in 1996 "tore down our national welcome sign to immigrants." The New York Times touts the provisions as "actions Congress took against legal aliens at the height of the national anti-immigrant fervor in 1996." The AP says the law was "enacted five years ago amid what critics call an anti-immigrant fervor."
These amazingly similar descriptions wouldn't necessarily be suspicious, except that they are comically false. It is a hard, cold fact that the criminal alien provisions at issue emanated from the most pro-immigrant office on Capitol Hill -- Sen. Spencer Abraham's office. Indeed, it was Sen. Abraham who spearheaded the fight against restrictions on legal immigration that same session.
Evidently, Abraham did not assume "immigrant" was synonymous with "felon." Nor did the Senate Judiciary Committee, which passed Abraham's criminal alien amendments in lopsided votes.
The ACLU claims the change effected by the 1996 law required that immigrants convicted of certain felonies be deported. No longer, the ACLU says, could criminal aliens simply "pay their debt to society" and "go on with their lives." The New York Times repeated the claim, stating: "The legislation Congress approved ... required the deportation of immigrants convicted of certain crimes."
Suppose you were just born yesterday. Would you believe that immigrants who commit felonies in this country were not subject to deportation until the 1996 Congress thought of it? In fact, noncitizens whose conception of the American dream was to come here and commit felonies had always been subject to deportation.
The problem was: Deportable criminal aliens weren't being deported. Legal legerdemain had so bollixed up the system that the Immigration and Naturalization Service was deporting only about 4 percent of convicted criminal aliens per year.