ACLU Enthusiastically Endorses Measure To Restore Fairness to Immigration Laws

July 25, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The United States is a nation of laws, and our government is charged with guaranteeing that these laws are administered with impartiality and fairness.

To ensure that impartiality and fairness, we are also a nation that provides for court review of government decisions. In our system of checks and balances, judicial review is an essential tool for preserving individual liberty. But anti-terrorism and immigration laws passed in 1996 eliminate that guarantee for many immigrants in the United States.

The American Civil Liberties Union is therefore happy to join with the AFL-CIO, B’nai B’rith, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, National Council of La Raza, National Immigration Forum, Organization of Chinese Americans and Immigrant and Refugee Services of America in endorsing the “Restoration of Fairness in Immigration Law Act of 2000” being introduced today in the House by Rep. John Conyers, (D-MI), joined by Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), James Clyburn (D-SC), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), and Robert Underwood (D-GU).

The Conyers measure would enhance judicial review of immigration decisions on such matters as deportation, asylum eligibility and detention. It would restore the pre-1996 law granting immigration officials authority to release immigrants who do not pose a danger to society and who are likely to appear for future proceedings. The bill would also prevent indefinite detention of non-citizens whom the Immigration and Naturalization Service is unable to remove. Currently, the government claims the authority to detain non-citizens indefinitely, after they have already served criminal sentences. Finally, the bill would help correct a number of other problems, including retroactive and discriminatory use of immigration laws.

Immigration decisions are life-altering and must be undertaken with great care. Deportation or detention can separate a person from her family and from all that makes life worth living. Mandatory and indefinite detention are perhaps the most flagrant, unfair deprivations of liberty possible.

When such a substantial liberty interest is at stake, the Constitution demands that adequate protection — or due process — is provided to ensure that such decisions are correct and fair. Judicial review of the decisions of immigration officials provides this essential due process protection. Congress should adopt the Conyers legislation to provide due process and ensure fairness for all on American soil.

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