New Legislation May Make More People Eligible for Cancellation of Removal

The Law Offices of Reeves and Hanlon has always been at the frontier in keeping abreast of legislative changes that affect immigration laws. As advocates for our clients, it is our job to inform and advise our clients of such changes.

There may be new hope for those previously ineligible for cancellation of removal if the new bill, currently before Congress, passes and goes into effect. The new legislation proposes to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) to revise amendments made by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (“IIRIRA”).

When the IIRIRA went into effect, the laws applying to criminal aliens were made very restrictive and made retroactive. For example, the definition of “aggravated felony” was greatly expanded and it denied the relief of cancellation of removal to virtually anyone convicted of a felony. This meant that those applying for cancellation of removal who were convicted at a time when their conviction did not constitute an aggravated felony, suddenly became ineligible for relief. In other words, persons were barred from relief regardless of whether the conviction was entered before, on, or after the date of enactment of IIRIRA. Given the drastic redefinition of aggravated felonies to include virtually every felony, the cancellation of removal provision would be useless in the vast majority of cases.

Because IIRIRA was applied retroactively, it did not matter than an alien had a clean record for five, ten, twenty years; they were still ineligible for relief even if they met all the other requirements for cancellation of removal. We, at Reeves and Hanlon, believe this is grossly unfair that many people, who have led exemplary lives for years, now find themselves deportable for offenses committed decades ago. Fortunately, Senator Moynihan of New York agrees with us and introduced a new bill in the Senate on January 19, 1999.

Senate bill 173 proposes to amend several parts of our existing immigration laws, specifically those that fall under the INA. These changes are aimed at making our immigration laws not only fairer but more efficient. The bill will amend the INA to read that persons are eligible for cancellation of removal if they have not been convicted of any aggravated felony punishable by imprisonment for a period of less than five years. This means that a person who has a felony conviction and his prison sentence was less than five years, will be eligible for the relief. We are very pleased that Senator Moynihan has taken an interest in immigration law, as the Law Offices of Reeves and Hanlon has successfully advocated immigrant rights for many years. We are hoping that the new bill will make those deserving of eligibility for cancellation of removal, finally realize their dream of becoming lawful permanent residents.