THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
"Immigration Reform Transition Act of 1997"
The President yesterday transmitted to the Congress a legislative proposal entitled the "Immigration Reform Transition Act of 1997." This legislative proposal would provide a needed transition for certain persons who had immigration cases pending before the 1996 immigration law took effect (the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA; Public Law 104-208). It would prevent the unfairness of applying certain new rules to pending immigration cases. It also recognizes the compelling circumstances of certain Central Americans who fled civil war and political persecution and the clear U.S. foreign policy interests associated with our treatment of these individuals.
Under this legislative proposal, applications for suspension of deportation (now called "cancellation of removal") that were in the administrative pipeline prior to April 1, 1997, would continue to be governed by the pre-IIRIRA standards. IIRIRA significantly and appropriately tightens the suspension/cancellation eligibility standards for newly filed cases. This legislative proposal merely recognizes that extending these standards to pre-IIRIRA applications would be grossly unfair. This proposal would fulfill the President's promise, made during his May 1997 trip to Central America, to correct this deficiency in IIRIRA's provisions.
IIRIRA also imposes a cap of 4,000 on the total number of suspensions and adjustments plus cancellations and adjustments that the Attorney General may grant in any given fiscal year. That ceiling should apply only to cases initiated on or after April 1, 1997, the date much of the new law took effect. The "Immigration Reform Transition Act of 1997" would ensure that individuals whose cases were pending before April 1 will not be ineligible for suspension/cancellation because of the cap. The legislative proposal would also exempt from the cap certain battered spouses and children.
In addition, the legislative proposal would:
Eliminate, for cases initiated before April 1, the provision of IIRIRA that had been interpreted by the Board of Immigration Appeals as requiring a suspension applicant in deportation proceedings to accrue 7 years of continuous physical presence before the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) served an Order to Show Cause. Such persons would be able to count their physical presence in the United States after the INS began deportation proceedings against them.
Specify that certain individuals in removal proceedings who are covered by the 1990 settlement agreement in American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh (ABC), and certain other Central Americans with long-pending asylum claims, who request cancellation of removal, will be judged by the pre-April 1 standards (standards applicable to suspension of deportation cases prior to IIRIRA).
Give certain persons with final orders of deportation 180 days to file a motion to reopen their proceedings to request suspension. (Currently, such motions generally must be filed within 90 days of the date an order of deportation becomes final.)
This legislative proposal will provide for a humane, phased transition to the new immigration law and ensure that the new law does not have an unduly harsh effect on individuals who have made vital contributions to their communities and who have put down deep roots in our Nation. It will also address the important U.S. foreign policy interest of promoting peace and democracy in Central America. We must continue to combat illegal immigration while facilitating legal immigration. We must do so, however, with laws that ease the transition for the individuals affected. The "Immigration Reform Transition Act of 1997" will fine-tune the 1996 immigration law to achieve these goals in a just and compassionate manner.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON
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