ACLU Applauds Bipartisan Spirit of Border Security Bill; Says Care Needed to Prevent Erosion of Civil Liberties

April 12, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — While applauding the bipartisan spirit of a new border security bill, the American Civil Liberties Union today told Congress that changes in border policies must be implemented with care to avoid unintended consequences out of tune with basic American values.

“While the bill takes a number of reasonable steps to make our borders safer and more secure, care must be taken to make sure that changes in border policies do not impinge on civil liberties and actually thwart law enforcement efforts,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.

The legislation, known as the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act (S. 1749) and sponsored by Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Sam Brownback (R-KA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), was the subject of a hearing today by the Immigration Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In testimony submitted to the committee, the ACLU said it is specifically concerned that the bill, as written, has the potential to thwart law enforcement efforts if certain information-sharing mandates are interpreted inflexibly, compromise the privacy rights of citizens and non-citizens by creating the infrastructure for a nation-wide government monitoring and identification system and discourage legitimate refugees from seeking asylum in the United States.

The ACLU encouraged the bill’s sponsors to make clarifications and vow continued oversight to prevent these problems.

In addition, Edgar said that while another provision that creates “lookout committees” in embassies abroad would keep out some dangerous terrorists, it could also create a political blacklist that would deprive Americans of their First Amendment right to be exposed to the views of others in the world.

Finally, the ACLU said it is concerned that the bill contains nothing to ameliorate the recurring problem of entirely innocent persons being denied entry into America because their names resemble those listed on terrorist lookout lists.

“America’s borders must be protected both from terrorists and from unfair and poorly considered border policies,” Edgar said. “To conform to basic American values, the sponsors of this legislation should serve notice that they intend a balanced border security regime.”

The ACLU’s testimony on the bill can be found at:
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