Major Victories for Civil Liberties Secured in Today's Immigration Bill Markup

May 20, 2013 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee met today to resume markup of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744). The following statement can be attributed to Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office:

“Today’s markup session was proof positive that the tide is turning away from anti-immigrant sentiment toward a future where we recognize the contributions of all who live in this great nation.”

These amendments that strengthen civil liberties protections in the bill passed unanimously:

  • Blumenthal 2 – Solitary Confinement
    Solitary confinement means physical and social isolation for 22 to 24 hours a day with little or no human contact – generally in a small cell with a solid steel door, a bunk, a toilet and a sink. This amendment is critical because it provides a broad framework for when it can be used to house immigration detainees, places presumptive limits on the use of such confinement in non-disciplinary settings, and requires the DHS Secretary to develop effective oversight mechanisms.
  • Blumenthal 8 – Immigration Raids in Sensitive Locations
    Restricts ICE and CBP from conducting raids in “sensitive locations” – hospitals, schools, and places of worship – unless they have prior approval or there is an emergency. This amendment is an overdue response to the fears and experiences of many communities who cannot access critical services for themselves and their kids – many of whom are U.S. citizens – because of harassment, intimidation and the threat of arrest by immigration agents.
  • Coons 5 – Right to See Documents
    This amendment would ensure that every noncitizen in removal proceedings has easy access to their immigration files. This is essential, as it could lead to a person finding out that they have lawful status or that they are eligible for relief from removal.
  • Coons 6 – Assisting Congress Assess Costs of Detention
    Requires that each agency involved with immigration detainees make data available across agencies so that these agencies, Congress, and advocates can track how long a person is detained, under what authority, and at what cost.

Amendments that would have weakened the bill failed:

  • Grassley 43 – Guilt by Association
    This amendment would have allowed an individual to be deported based solely on purported association with a street gang rather than an individual person’s culpable conduct. It would have allowed a determination that someone is a member of a street gang without a specific burden of proof. This would have disproportionately affected youth of color and increased racial profiling.

Unfortunately, some problematic amendments did pass:

  • Grassley 44, Lee 16, and Lee 17 – Excluding People from Road to Citizenship
    These amendments taken together unnecessarily impose harsher bars to legalization for immigrants even though the base bill already bars immigrants from applying for legalization status if they have been convicted of most felony offenses, or three misdemeanor offenses. The base bill strikes the right balance on criminal enforcement, makes important reforms, and these excessive amendments will divert scarce federal resources away from the real criminals and toward draconian punishments on individuals.

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