Congress Restores Controversial Immigrant Tracking and Detention Program, But Demands Answers from Administration

February 14, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today criticized Congressional Republicans for bringing back to life a controversial immigrant-tracking program that has led to widespread fear in immigrant communities and resulted in hundreds of detentions, but noted Congress’ pointed demands for answers from the Administration, saying they reflect widespread concern, on both sides of the aisle, about the program.

“By restoring a selective immigrant-tracking program that targets the wrong people and diverts resources from fighting terrorism, Republicans in Congress made a serious mistake that harms both civil liberties and national security,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “While we welcome strong reporting requirements, we fear the Administration will not provide the answers Congress is seeking or change its mind about this deeply misguided program.”

The controversial National Security Entry Exit Registration System program — or NSEERS — was given new life last night when Republican members of a conference committee on the omnibus spending legislation stripped a rider killing the program, which was initially backed by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Russell Feingold (D-WI) and John Kyl (D-AZ) and included in the bill by the Senate.

The provision would have defunded NSEERS and was stripped out of the bill by Congressional Republicans. In its place, conferees included reporting language, which the ACLU said reflected widespread concern in Congress about the program, but objected that simple document collection will do little to stem the mass INS detentions.

The new provision requires the Attorney General and new Homeland Security Secretary to turn over all materials dealing with the system’s creation, its effectiveness as a national security tool, the process for choosing which countries are targeted for registration, future plans for NSEERS, consultation with other agencies in the system’s implementation, rationale for the widespread detentions and how the information collected in the registration process will be distributed among government agencies.

While the survival of NSEERS is a disappointment, the ACLU said, it comes in a bill that does contain a significant win for civil liberties. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported on the front page that conferees had agreed to include an amendment sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) to limit the cyber-surveillance program known as Total Information Awareness.

A coalition letter opposing NSEERS can be found at:
/node/21263

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