Problematic Human Smuggling And Terrorism Bill Passes House

April 1, 2009 12:00 am

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Requires Reliance On Flawed Watch Lists And Fails To Protect Humanitarian Assistance Organizations

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WASHINGTON – Yesterday the House of Representatives passed flawed immigration legislation that would prevent some innocent Americans from returning to their home country and would fail to protect U.S. humanitarian relief providers from criminal prosecution for human smuggling and harboring. The American Civil Liberties Union calls on the Senate to correct this problematic legislation before moving it forward.

The Alien Smuggling and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2009, H.R. 1029, aims to combat human smuggling into the United States by checking all persons entering the country against the error-filled terrorist watch lists. It also revises smuggling and related criminal laws such as providing “material support.”

“Combating human smuggling to prevent terrorists from entering the United States is an important goal, but this bill goes about it the wrong way by harming humanitarian aide providers as well as Americans who are erroneously on the watch lists,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The watch lists are riddled with errors, and until they are fixed, we can’t rely on them to identify terrorists. Instead, the lists harm innocent Americans, as does failing to extend immunity to charitable organizations that provide medical assistance and food to the least fortunate.”

As voted on by the House, the legislation has two significant problems that must be addressed by the Senate. This bill would for the first time create a statutory requirement to check an individual’s identification against bloated and error-filled terrorist watch lists. The lists are filled with the names of many innocent Americans, and provide no real opportunity for those Americans to get their names taken off. For the watch lists to be effective for this and other purposes, they must be scrubbed regularly for errors.

The House bill also failed to protect humanitarian assistance organizations from being criminally prosecuted for human smuggling and harboring, even though current law applies such an exemption to many religious organizations. Every day around the country, domestic violence shelters, health clinics, and soup kitchens provide emergency relief to people in distress. For people lacking lawful status, there is often nowhere else to turn for help. Humanitarian relief organizations should not be criminally prosecuted for aiding domestic violence victims and people in distress.

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