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Immigrants' Rights - Current Issues In Immigrants' Rights

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Immigration policies and immigrants, rights came under attack in the mid- to late-1990s as California adopted laws that would restrict public services such as public school education and non-emergency health care to illegal aliens and require immigrant students to learn English. California voters passed the controversial Proposition 187 in 1994. The bill's supporters contended that undocumented immigrants cost the state billions of dollars in public services annually.

In addition, several members of Congress, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, proposed making English the country's national language, which force immigrants to learn and use English. Moreover, Congress passed welfare reform legislation (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996) that cut Medicaid, Supplementary Security Income, and federal food stamps to legal immigrants. Although Congress approved an extension of Medicaid and Supplementary Security Income to about 500,000 immigrants who entered the country legally prior to the adoption of the welfare reform policies, it failed to pass any bills for permanently providing minor, elderly, and disabled legal immigrants with Medicaid and Supplementary Security Income by mid-1998. Therefore, the ACLU, the state of Florida, and various organizations took steps to restore such benefits to legal immigrants by suing the Social Security Administration in cases such as Sutich v. Callahan (1997) and challenging California's immigrant laws in cases such as League of United Latin American Citizens v. Pete Wilson (1997).

Furthermore, members of Congress eyed Proposition 187 as a possible national solution to illegal immigration. In 1996, Congress debated passing the Gallegly Amendment, a national law that would deny children of illegal immigrants public education and other public services. Although Congress finally dropped the amendment from an immigrant bill it sent to the president, some members continued to push for such legislation as a separate bill in the late 1990s.

Despite its concessions, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 still contained a number of controversial measures, including one that made deporting both documented and undocumented immigrants easier and one that deprived federal judges of the power to review deportation cases and grant deportation waivers. However, U.S. District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein heard a case brought before the court by American Civil Liberties Union that disputed this interpretation of the Immigrant Act and concluded that federal courts still held the power to review deportation cases and grant waivers.

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