ACLU Opposes Latest Court-Stripping Assault on Rights of Immigrants; Unnecessary Proposal Includes Another Piece of 'Patriot 2'

May 20, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today strongly condemned new proposed legislation that would restrict immigrants’ access to federal court, and called on Congress to reject the measure. The proposed bill would explicitly restrict access to the “Great Writ” of habeas corpus, which lies at the core of American liberty, and also contains a provision of the now defunct “Patriot Act 2” legislation leaked last year.

“Lawmakers must not allow confusion or misunderstanding to drive our national immigration policy,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Congress should reject this proposal and instead revisit the restrictions on judicial review imposed in 1996 as well as the Bush Administration’s ill-considered ‘streamlining’ of immigration appeals that are the source of the problems this bill supposedly seeks to address.”

The “Fairness in Immigration Litigation Act,” [S. 2443/H.R. 4406] was introduced yesterday by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and John Kyl (R-AZ) and Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Hostettler (R-IN).

The legislation would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by weakening the judicial review process in immigration proceedings and undermining the few protections that individuals have in the immigration system. The bill lacks any Democratic co-sponsors and faces uncertain prospects in an election year in which both parties are courting the Latino vote.

“This court-stripping bill tries to limit the rights of immigrants to a real day in court,” said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU Immigrants Rights Project. “It is not the limited measure the sponsors claim, but rather is a thinly veiled attempt to undermine the constitutionally-guaranteed right to habeas corpus.”

Guttentag noted the bill fails to adhere to core principles of INS v. Enrico St. Cyr, in which the Supreme Court ruled that immigrants have the right to challenge the “legal validity” of their deportation orders in federal court. While the sponsors acknowledge that courts must ‘correct legal errors’ in deportation orders, the ACLU said that the bill seeks to prohibit that.

Guttentag — who successfully argued the St. Cyr case for the ACLU — added that, “the issue the sponsors are supposedly addressing is a problem of Congress’s own making. All Congress needs to do is repeal the court-stripping measures enacted in 1996 and all immigrants could bring their claims directly in the court of appeals.”

The proposal also contains a provision last seen in the draft ‘Patriot 2’ legislation that was floated on Capitol Hill last year. The Hatch-Kyl bill represents another in a number of recent measures that includes provisions outlined in Patriot 2 as part of an effort to pass the legislation in piece-meal fashion.

The Patriot II provision seeks to permit the deportation of individuals to countries that lack a formal and functioning government to accept them – for example, Somalia. This issue is now before the Supreme Court in Jama v. INS.

“Congress should certainly reject this effort to affirm the uncaring and ill-considered notion, now under review by the Supreme Court, that the government can simply dump non-citizens in a lawless environment where there is no functioning government,” Guttentag said.

Finally, the measure would make it more difficult for persons fleeing persecution to find asylum in the United States by changing the standards of proof that applicants would have to meet; and would place greater restriction in the judicial review process designed to correct wrongly denied asylum claims.

“Our heritage as a nation of immigrants should guide us to ensure that they are treated fairly and with respect,” Edgar said. “This measure fails to do either and should be flatly rejected.”

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