ACLU Says House Intelligence Reform Measure Expands Patriot Act, Scapegoats Immigrants and Creates a 'Big Brother' State

October 7, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today urged all Members of Congress to reject the House Republican leadership intelligence reform legislation and any amendments that would advance Patriot Act expansions and other law enforcement powers, scapegoat immigrants and create a “Big Brother” society.

“The 9/11 Commission gave Congress a specific game plan, which House leaders are ignoring,” said Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU Executive Director. “The House bill puts forward a political agenda that has trumped protecting America. To add insult to injury, many of the amendments to be considered would only further snub the hard work of the Commission and curtail freedom.”

The House is considering the “9/11 Commission Implementation Act” (H.R. 10) today, a bill drafted by the Republican House leadership with little consultation with Democrats. The bill differs greatly from its Senate counterpart – the bi-partisan Collins-Lieberman was adopted yesterday on a near-unanimous vote. The ACLU noted that several commissioners and the Family Steering Committee of 9/11 victims have recently raised serious concerns about many of the superfluous law enforcement and immigration provisions in the House bill.

“The 9/11 Commission asked for a scalpel, the House leadership responded with a chainsaw,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The House Republican legislation does not reflect the values of libertarian conservatives – they, and others, should bring this bill back in line with the principles of freedom.”

Last week, a majority of the 9/11 Commission gathered on Capitol Hill to ask Congress to strip the anti-immigrant and Patriot Act 2 provisions that would expand law enforcement powers, a sentiment echoed by the family members of 9/11 victims in calls to key members last night.

Several sections would deny immigrants basic judicial review over unfair, arbitrary or otherwise abusive deportations. The House bill, if enacted, would permit the deportation of individuals to countries lacking a functioning government — an issue pending before the Supreme Court — and would make it more difficult for individuals to claim asylum. The bill also permits the deportation of individuals to any country, even if it was not the suspect’s home country or place of birth, leading to the possibility that individuals will be sent to countries where they will be subject to torture.

In addition, the House bill includes extraneous anti-immigrant court-stripping provisions that seriously weaken the judicial review process in immigration proceedings. This provision explicitly forbids, in some cases, access to the constitutionally mandated “Great Writ” of habeas corpus. The ACLU said that if enacted, this measure would create the illusion of judicial oversight of immigration matters in many cases.

The ACLU noted that many of these anti-immigrant policies have long been priorities for the hard-line anti-immigration lobby.

The House bill also contains a provision that would create a de facto National ID card.

While the underlying measure raises serious civil liberties and privacy concerns, the ACLU expressed its alarm with multiple amendments up for consideration that would only further detract from the findings of the 9/11 Commission and unnecessarily curtail freedom and privacy.

The ACLU warned that the so-called compromise amendment on the “outsourcing” of torture would broadly authorize potentially indefinite, if not lifelong, detention of immigrants who are not terrorists.

In addition, the ACLU called on Members to reject the following amendments that would:

  • Expand on the use of flawed mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.
  • Create 23 new federal death penalties for all “federal crimes of terrorism,” including material support. This provision was included in the draft Patriot Act 2.
  • Create presumption of pretrial detention for anyone charged with terrorism offense. This is also a Patriot Act 2 provision.
  • Amend the expansion of expedited removal, leading to diminished judicial review on asylum requests.
  • Place a higher burden for asylum seekers whose government accuses them of terrorism, even if the government is a terrorist nation itself.
  • Make it easier for non-citizens who cannot be deported (because, for example, they would be tortured) to be detained indefinitely — even if they have never been convicted of a crime, and even if they are not terrorists.

The ACLU noted that an amendment offered by Rep. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), attempts to mirror the bi-partisan work of the Senate. While the Menendez amendment does not alleviate all of the ACLU’s concerns in the House bill, it would remove the Patriot Act 2 provisions and the anti-immigrant measures, while creating, as the Senate did, a strong and independent civil liberties board, and privacy and civil liberties officers in all agencies dealing with intelligence.

A vote on all the amendments and the final bill is expected later today or early tomorrow morning.

“Instead of mirroring the Senate’s bipartisan teamwork, Republican House leaders are pushing their own political agenda by pulling out old moves from their anti-immigrant, anti-privacy, anti-civil liberties playbook,” the ACLU’s Murphy said. “For the party that claims to be against intrusive government power, the House Republican proposal is a large step toward creating a ‘Big Brother’ society.”

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with Congress’s implementation of the 9/11 Commission’s findings, go to:

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