NYCLU: Senate's Immigration Reform Blueprint an Important Start, But Raises Many Civil Liberties Concerns

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
April 30, 2010 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – The New York Civil Liberties Union today commended Senate leaders for outlining a draft comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, treat immigrants in detention centers humanely, and end discrimination against bi-national LGBT families in the immigration system. But the blueprint also raises serious civil liberties and civil rights concerns, including a troubling provision which would create a mandatory biometric national ID card for all U.S. workers, a continuation of local enforcement of immigration laws, and a failure to restore due process, judicial review and basic fairness to the immigration system.

“This is an important moment for many New York families that have for too long been forced into the shadows by a dysfunctional immigration system,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The bill outlined by Senate leadership would make many important changes to our nation’s broken immigration system. But it would create additional problems that would threaten the privacy and liberty of immigrants and citizens alike. The stakes are too high to get this wrong. We need legislation that creates true immigration reform and respects fundamental rights and liberties this year.”

On Thursday, the Senate Democratic leadership, including New York Sen. Charles Schumer, pledged to introduce an immigration reform bill this year that would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Nearly half of the outline was devoted to the creation of a national worker identification system in which anyone looking to work in the United States – citizens and non-citizens alike – must obtain a government ID card bearing their photograph and encrypted with biometric data, such as their fingerprints, an iris scan or a scan of the veins on the backs of their hands. Prospective employers would scan the cards to verify a job applicant’s citizenship or immigration status.

“Creating a biometric national ID card would force every working person in America to get the government’s permission to start a job,” Lieberman said. “Establishing the backbone to a national ID system would enable future administrations to track our daily activities and pry into our private lives. While it may be difficult for some to imagine the Obama administration abusing that infrastructure, what happens when the next Bush administration comes along?”

The draft bill also provides for continuation of the much-criticized Immigration and Customs Enforcement 287(g) program – enforcement of immigration laws by local police departments. Just this month, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General issued a scathing report of the local enforcement program, citing systemic mismanagement, poor oversight and extensive civil rights deficiencies.

“By endorsing local enforcement of immigration laws, Senate leaders are giving states and localities a green-light to follow Arizona’s lead,” said NYCLU Advocacy Director Udi Ofer. “When local police act as immigration agents, immigrants become fearful that they might be deported and stop reporting crimes, weakening public safety. These programs also create incentives for rampant racial profiling. Innocent people become police targets, including U.S. citizens, just because they look or sound ‘foreign.'”

The draft bill also fails to restore due process, judicial review and basic fairness to the immigration system. The U.S. Constitution guarantees every person due process under the law—regardless of immigration status. Yet in many cases, our immigration laws prevent judges from considering the facts of a case before imprisoning people, sometimes for years, without hearings or access to lawyers or their families.

“When we deprive one vulnerable group of due process and equal protection, we erode the constitutional protections all Americans value,” said NYCLU Senior Advocacy Coordinator Ari Rosmarin. “Our current immigration detention and deportation system are a national disgrace and demand reform.”

For months, the NYCLU and its allies have been organizing across New York State and advocating for reform of the immigration system that respects civil rights and civil liberties. The NYCLU believes that any comprehensive immigration reform must accomplish the following:

  • Pave a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants already living in the Unites States, including the 1 million immigrants living in New York State;
  • Restore due process, judicial review and fairness to the immigration system;
  • End local enforcement of federal immigration law;
  • Treat immigrants in detention centers humanely and create alternatives to detention;
  • End discrimination against bi-national LGBT families in the immigration system; and
  • Respect Americans’ privacy and reject backdoor attempts to establish a national ID card.

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