ACLU Washington Chief Tells Congress: Bush Administration Should Target Terrorists, Not Immigrants

May 8, 2003 12:00 am

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Laura Murphy

WASHINGTON – Laura W. Murphy (right), Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, told a House panel today that the government’s actions against immigrants in post-9/11 America have not been in keeping with President Bush’s promise to create a more inclusive society and that the federal government needs to change its tactics to target terrorists and not innocent non-citizens.

“”Since 9/11, we’ve seen unwarranted preventive detention, mass secret incarceration and deportation and rampant racial, ethnic and national origin profiling of innocent immigrants,”” Murphy said. “”Given the President’s positive outreach to non-citizen communities and our history as a nation of immigrants, we can do more to focus our security efforts against actual terrorists, as opposed to non-citizens who just happen to be in the crossfire.””

Murphy testified today before the House Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Border Security and Claims Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN), at a hearing on immigration enforcement since 9/11.

Her remarks included criticism of the government’s ongoing disregard for due process protections against arbitrary or unlawful detention. Specific examples include the policy, under the Operation Liberty Shield domestic security program, of requiring the mandatory detention of asylum-seekers and refugees from particular disfavored groups, such as Haitians or individuals from Arab, Muslim or South Asian nations. Under the policy, individual hearings and judicial discretion are done away with entirely and incarceration is based only on unchangeable, and irrelevant, characteristics like country of origin.

Also of concern to the ACLU are frequent reports of the selective enforcement of obscure and minor immigration infractions against otherwise law-abiding non-citizens based on their countries of origin or ethnicity. Perhaps the most extraordinary example involves the arrest of a Florida resident whose only offense was the failure to file a change of address form with the INS within ten days of moving. Significantly, many of these types of infractions are the direct result of immigration authorities’ oversight or overwork.

Murphy addressed the recent secrecy around immigration issues, exemplified in the hundreds of secret detentions in the months following the attacks and the year-and-a-half old wholesale closure to the press and public, by Department of Justice fiat, of routine immigration hearings across the country deemed of “special interest” to the government. Additionally, she will warn Congress that the widespread use of heavy-handed tactics against non-citizens in America threatens to alienate immigrant communities, whose cooperation is necessary to confront the threat of terrorism.

“”Increased secrecy, lack of accountability and a draconian lock-’em-up mentality have unnecessarily infused this country’s immigration enforcement in the post-9/11 world,”” Murphy said. “”Swift change is required to remain true to our heritage as a nation of immigrants.”

Murphy’s testimony can be found at:

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