ACLU Supports Bipartisan Immigration Fairness Measure; Says Bill is Best Chance to Fix Draconian 1996 Laws

March 7, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Saying it represents the most effective fix to a pair of draconian and regressive immigration laws passed in 1996, the American Civil Liberties Union today expressed its strong support for a House bill that it called a great chance for restoring fairness in America’s immigration system.

“Principles of law and fairness demand that everyone residing within our borders be entitled to certain essential rights,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Congress should adopt this legislation now to ensure fairness for everyone on American soil.”

The bill directly targets two laws passed in 1996: the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The ACLU says that these laws, taken together, essentially deny basic principles of fairness, justice, equality, family unity and due process to a largely voiceless portion of society.

The ACLU also strongly supports a provision in the bill that would take the crucial step of once again opening immigration court proceedings to the public. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, the country’s chief immigration judge declared many immigration courts closed to the media and the general public, a move that has provoked significant outcry across the country. The ACLU is currently representing Rep. Conyers and several other plaintiffs in a lawsuit underway in Michigan seeking to open the deportation hearings of Muslim leader Rabih Haddad, and just filed another similar case this week in New Jersey.

The legislation is being sponsored by Michigan Democrat Rep. John Conyers and Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Conyers has introduced similar legislation in the past, which also garnered support from a vast array of civil rights, religious, ethnic and labor organizations.

In two cases last year in which the ACLU participated — INS v. St. Cyr and Zadvydas v. Davis — the Supreme Court delivered a strong rebuke to overly harsh application of the 1996 laws and gave its ringing affirmation to the principle that the Constitution protects everyone, including immigrants. Now Congress must finish the job by passing legislation to fix the 1996 laws once and for all, the ACLU’s Edgar said. The Conyers/Ros-Lehtinen bill would do that by once again legislatively recognizing that immigrants in the United States, of any status, are entitled to dignified and respectful treatment.

“Under this bill, no one who breaks the law gets a free ride or a right to remain in the United States,” Edgar said. “But the bill will ensure that detention is only used when there is a risk of flight or to ensure public safety and it gives deserving immigrants who have made new lives a chance to ask for needed relief.”

A Coalition Letter in Favor of the Bill can be found at:

Statement of a Person Affected by ’96 Laws:

ACLU Release on New Jersey Lawsuit:

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