ACLU Backs Bill to Stop Improper Removal and Jailing of Refugees,Says Measure Would Save Lives, Prevent Mistreatment

August 2, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union expressed strong support today for new bipartisan legislation that would greatly limit the number of deportations, without a fair hearing and without review, of asylum-seekers with a valid need for refuge in the United States.

“The widespread use of what is known as ‘expedited removal’ by the INS has condemned many people who have fled persecution in their country of origin to an undeserved jail cell — or worse – back home,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Lady Liberty should be opening her arms to refugees, not turning her back on them.”

Expedited removal, originally implemented in a series of 1996 immigration laws, was initially intended to ease the bureaucratic backlog at the Immigration and Naturalization Service and to streamline the process by which asylum-seekers are denied entry to the United States. It effectively gave rank-and-file INS agents at points of entry the ability to order the rapid deportation of individuals seeking entry without proper papers.

Several studies have shown, however, that many of the individuals put back on a plane or boat by expedited removal had valid claims to asylum in the United States and were forced back to harm or persecution in their home country. These life-altering decisions were made on the spot without an interview with an asylum officer, a fair hearing by an immigration judge, or review by the courts.

The “Refugee Protection Act of 2001,” introduced today by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) would limit the practice of expedited removal and end the current mandatory detention by the INS of prospective immigrants and asylum seekers who arrive without proper documentation.

“This legislation would restore the legal and procedural protections to refugees and immigrants that have long been judged their due by the nation’s courts,” Edgar said.

The ACLU has collected an anthology of horror stories involving expedited removal including one where an Algerian man with limited English had to literally stab himself to prevent deportation. After arriving in America, the man was interviewed by an inexpert INS officer without an interpreter present and was threatened with immediate deportation even after expressing his fears of being killed back home. In desperation, he shattered a coffee cup and stabbed himself in the stomach, effectively stalling his imminent removal. The stabbing allowed for a hearing with an immigration judge who overturned the INS decision and granted the Algerian man asylum.

“Without just cause, hundreds of people in desperate fear for their lives and welfare are being turned away from America’s traditionally compassionate and open borders,” Edgar said. “It’s time for the United States to once again grant the tired and the poor access to a new life.”

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