The targeting of criminal offenders for removal has become one of the central priorities of contemporary immigration enforcement in the USA. Scholars have rightly highlighted the importance of a series of laws passed during the 1990s, in particular the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Criminal Responsibility Act, in laying the foundations for this targeting of immigrants. These laws increased the penalties for breaching US immigration laws and expanded the class of non-citizens who could be deported for committing crimes. In this article, I draw attention to an earlier immigration law that has played a key, but less studied, role in laying the groundwork for the contemporary policing and removal of immigrants: the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). IRCA is well-known for having criminalized the hiring of undocumented workers, increasing the resources of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to patrol the nation’s borders, and providing undocumented immigrants with a path toward legalization. But the law also contained a small provision that required the US Attorney General to deport non-citizens convicted of removable offenses as expeditiously as possible. This provision dealing with the removal of ‘criminal aliens’ has turned out to be of monumental significance. In many ways, it has helped to dramatically shape the nature of contemporary immigration enforcement. IRCA basically helped set in motion the contemporary practice of targeting ‘criminal aliens’ for deportation. In turn, this practice has morphed into a mechanism for policing immigrant ‘illegality’ more generally.