ACLU Applauds Senators Menendez and Kennedy for Bill to Protect U.S. Citizens from Unlawful Detention and Deportation

September 26, 2008 12:00 am

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Long-awaited legislation establishes due process standards for immigration detention, raids and deportation

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WASHINGTON, DC – Last night, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introduced legislation to protect U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents from being unlawfully detained and deported by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In the wake of sweeping immigration raids that have devastated communities across the country, the ACLU welcomes this bill, S.3594, The Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Raids and Detention Act, as the first legislation to require DHS to follow due process standards in executing immigration raids.

“The Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Raids and Detention Act is long overdue,” said Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel. In recent years, immigration detention and deportation rates have grown exponentially: last year over 300,000 people were deported and over 30,000 people held in immigration detention daily. DHS’s immigration enforcement actions have been so sweeping and untargeted that they have ensnared U.S. citizens. Hundreds of U.S. citizens have been unlawfully detained by DHS, and at least one U.S. citizen was illegally deported to Mexico, a country he had never lived in. According to Lin, “These gross due process violations have occurred because there are no controls or regulations governing DHS’s conduct. This bill is a necessary antidote to DHS’s unchecked and unconstitutional immigration enforcement powers.”

The ACLU has sued DHS for illegal detaining and deporting people including U.S. citizens. One ACLU client, Pedro Guzman, a U.S. citizen born in California, was deported to Mexico in 2007. After he was deported, Mr. Guzman was forced to live on the streets, to bathe in rivers and to eat out of trash bins for several months before he was allowed to reenter his home country, the U.S. The ACLU of Southern California and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster have brought a damages action against DHS on behalf of Mr. Guzman and his mother.

“Local jail officials and federal immigration officers deported the undeportable, a United States citizen, based on appearance, prejudice and reckless failure to apply fair legal procedures,” said ACLU of Southern California Legal Director Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney for Pedro Guzman and his mother. “Local law enforcement officials should do the jobs they’re trained for, not enforce complicated federal immigration laws. We don’t use local officials to audit IRS returns or conduct foreign wars; that’s why we have a federal government. The same applies to enforcement of immigration laws.”

In another lawsuit, the ACLU, National Immigration Law Center and the National Lawyers’ Guild sued DHS for systematically denying access to counsel to workers swept up in an immigration raid. In February 2008, ICE agents descended on the premises of a printer supply company in Van Nuys, California, temporarily shutting down operations. The ACLU and other lawyers offered to represent all the arrested workers, but ICE refused to let the workers consult with immigration attorneys, both at the worksite and later at the local ICE field office in the days following the raid. Some of the workers who tried to assert their right to counsel were intimidated by ICE agents into making incriminating statements.

The ACLU, NILC and NLG had no choice but to sue DHS for violating the workers’ right to consult with immigration counsel. In March 2008, DHS settled the case and allowed immigration attorneys to sit in on the workers’ interviews with ICE officers. The workers were represented by Ahilan Arulanantham, director of immigrants’ rights and national security at the ACLU of Southern California. According to Mr. Arulanantham, “ICE enforcement actions repeatedly violated the Constitution and federal law in this case. U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and others living in this country are entitled to a federal government that follows the law and due process.”

These ACLU lawsuits highlight the urgent need for Congress to pass legislation that curbs ICE’s unconstitutional raids, detention and deportation practices. To this end, this legislation would do the following:

  • Create due process protections, such as notification of immigration charges and access to counsel and phones, during immigration enforcement efforts;
  • Require DHS to implement regulations to ensure that immigration detainees are treated humanely;
  • Promote “alternatives to detention” programs that are more humane and cost-effective than traditional penal-style detention;
  • Establish an ICE ombudsman to investigate complaints and to create DHS accountability; and
  • Provide labor protections to ensure that ICE worksite raids do not undermine labor or employment law investigations.

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