In First Week, House Renews Anti-Immigrant Push; Extreme Measures Rejected During Intelligence Reform Debate

January 7, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – With the new Congress barely a week old, three major anti-immigration bills are already in play. The American Civil Liberties Union called many of the bills extreme and noted that most were rejected as harsh and unnecessary during debate over intelligence reform legislation passed at the end of last year.

“Immigrants from Albert Einstein to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have long been a vital part of American society, yet these bills seek to build a wall between immigrants and basic American rights,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) are the driving forces behind the bills. Sensenbrenner has vowed to attach his bill, which he wrongly describes as a “border security” measure, to the first “must-pass” legislation to come before the House. The Sensenbrenner bill would:

* Force people fleeing persecution to provide written “corroboration” of abuse or threats from the very officials they are trying to escape. Asylum applicants are already subject to extensive scrutiny by immigration officials who have the power to deny improper asylum claims.

* Ban states from issuing drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants, forcing states to abandon policies that have enhanced public safety by cutting the number of unlicensed and uninsured drivers.

Rep. Dreier introduced the other anti-immigrant legislation: HR100 and HR98.

H.R. 100 would severely restrict review of many cases involving long-term, legal immigrants who have served criminal sentences, even for nonviolent offenses. Although the Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that review is available in these cases through the “Great Writ” of habeas corpus, the Dreier bill would take the extreme step of explicitly foreclosing that option.

H.R. 98 would transform the Social Security card into a Big Brother-style national ID card by adding photographs and electronic features and linking them to a database, although the bill disavows the term “national ID” to describe the new cards. “This attempt to escape the ‘national ID’ moniker is just political double-talk, akin to a law that insists that a walking, quacking aquatic bird with a broad bill is not a ‘duck,'” Edgar said. H.R. 98 would mandate that the employers check the cards against the database. Because of notoriously flawed immigration records, the database would wrongly misidentify many legal residents and citizens and would increase discrimination against job applicants that employers believe “look foreign.”

Many social conservatives have been alarmed by previous attempts to institute defacto national ID cards and have expressed concern that the provisions targeting asylum seekers would force Christians and others fleeing religious oppression to return to their persecutors.

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