ACLU Joins "Fix '96" Campaign for Justice for Immigrants

July 28, 1999 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Pledging to activate tens of thousands of its members and supporters around the country, the American Civil Liberties Union today strongly endorsed a campaign to fix three 1996 laws that have already deprived thousands of immigrants of their civil and constitutional rights.

The campaign — Fix ’96: Restore America’s Tradition as a Nation of Immigrants and a Nation of Just Laws — was launched this afternoon at a news conference in the Capitol by a diverse collection of national organizations. In addition to the ACLU, groups that have endorsed the campaign initiated by the National Immigration Forum include the U.S. Catholic Conference, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Anti-Defamation League and dozens of others.

The campaign is seeking to restore a common-sense balance to the nation’s immigration policy, which was destroyed, the ACLU and other advocates say, by the 1996 terrorism, welfare and immigration laws.

“In just one year, Congress and the President outdid themselves in exploiting the nation’s tragic tendency to blame immigrants for its problems,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, ACLU Legislative Counsel.

The ACLU said it would particularly urge Congress to fix provisions of the 1996 laws dealing with:

  • Judicial Review. The 1996 laws sought to strip federal courts of the ability to police the government’s enforcement of immigration laws. “A strong and independent judiciary is the cornerstone of our democratic system,” Nojeim said, “and has long checked unjust and unfair government actions against immigrants.”

  • Unfair Detention of Immigrants. The 1996 laws required detention of many permanent residents who had committed minor criminal offenses for which they had long ago paid their debt to society. The laws also have led to the unjust lifetime detention of about 3,500 immigrants who face deportation, but cannot leave because no other country will accept them.

  • Secret Evidence. Under the 1996 laws, the Immigration and Nationalization Service is currently using secret evidence in approximately two dozen cases, almost all of which involve Arabs and Muslims. “The use of secret evidence is a feature of totalitarian governments,” Nojeim said. “It goes against everything our country stands for. People here whose liberty is at stake have the right to know the evidence against them and to be given an opportunity to rebut it.”

  • Summary Removal. As a result of the 1996 laws, refugees fleeing persecution from another country can be denied the opportunity to even apply for asylum by unsophisticated low-level inspectors. “These life and death decisions must be made with care,” Nojeim said. “They should not be made on the fly by untrained inspectors.”

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