ACLU Calls Flawed House Border Security Bill An Assault on Privacy, Says Measure Would Expand Policies That Already Erode Civil Liberties

December 8, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today denounced legislation, authored by House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), aimed at enhancing border security and employment verification, but that would actually undermine the privacy of Americans and would not appropriately address the issue of illegal immigration. The House Judiciary Committee approved that bill today.

“Instead of securing our borders, this bill would only undermine the privacy of workers and erode due process,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Americans should not have to seek the permission of the government to work, and businesses should not be burdened with responsibility of enforcing immigration laws, both of which this bill mandates. These sweeping proposals should not be rushed through Congress in the last days of its session.”

At issue is HR 4437, the “Border and Immigration Enforcement Act of 2005,” which also includes HR 4312, the “Border Security and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2005.” The House Judiciary Committee approved the Sensenbrenner bill on a vote of 23-18. The ACLU noted that, while HR 4312 has had some consideration by Congress, hearings have not been held on HR 4437, and lawmakers have had less than two days to give the proposals necessary review.

The Sensenbrenner bill creates a new provision that requires every single citizen and lawful alien resident to obtain federal permission to work. The bill would require all businesses to participate in an employment eligibility verification program, by dramatically expanding the fatally flawed, and currently voluntary “Basic Pilot” program. Basic Pilot is an internet-based program that checks employee names and Social Security numbers from Employment Eligibility Verification (I-9) forms against government databases.

Under the bill, all new hires and current employees, including American citizens and legal permanent residents, would have to be verified, and, with the error rates in the current pilot programs, tens of millions of people could be erroneously denied permission to work by the federal government. The ACLU said that the collection and retention of this information in government databases poses a serious threat to personal privacy.

Also, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office recently reported that the best estimates show that enacting any nationwide, employer-implemented, employee-eligibility verification system will cost at least $11.7 billion per year. The ACLU noted that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is opposed to the Sensenbrenner proposal.

On the issue of border security, the bill would further militarize the border, give extraordinary powers to low-level immigration officials within 100 miles of the border to expel -without a hearing — anyone believed to be a recently arrived illegal immigrant and expands mandatory detention rules to apply to all non-citizens arriving at a port of entry or “along” the border. The ACLU noted that these moves would only further undermine the notion of due process and would not help to deter illegal immigration.

Notably, the bill does not take steps to address the issue of illegal immigrants already in the country, through a guest worker program or otherwise. Both the House and Senate are expected to take up measures on those issues next year.

“These controversial powers should be subjected to the full consideration of the legislative process and proper debate and deliberation,” Fredrickson added. “Lawmakers must put the brakes on and reject this flawed legislation.”

To read the ACLU’s Interested Person’s Memo on the immigration provisions in the bill, go to:

To read the ACLU’s Interested Person’s Memo on Employment Eligibility Verification programs, go to:

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