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In recent years, politicians seeking to be tough on undocumented immigrants have passed laws that have made life more difficult for legal immigrants as well as undocumented immigrants. For example, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), both passed in 1996, were touted as legislation that would control illegal immigration. Actually, both included provisions that have become a legal nightmare for many legal immigrants, their families, and the communities in which they live.
The government’s response to terrorism since September 11, 2001, has made matters worse. The consequences are grave—for minor violations of status, immigrants can be deported, and kept out of the U.S. forever.
Unfortunately, there are insufficient affordable legal services to meet the growing need. The increase in complexity of immigration law, and severity of consequences for even minor violations, has made professional legal assistance more important than ever. An immigrant or an asylum seeker facing the legal system without representation is much less likely to be successful. Advocacy, non-profit, and faith-based institutions have tried to fill the gap to the greatest extent possible.