Rights Groups Urge High Court to Reconsider Decision Denying Free Speech Rights to Immigrants

March 22, 1999 12:00 am

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Monday, March 22, 1999

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union joined today with national religious, ethnic, civil liberties and civil rights organizations to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider a recent decision in which the Justices effectively denied immigrants in this country the same First Amendment rights that all citizens enjoy.

The ACLU said that the Court’s February 24 ruling in Reno v. American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee has chilled the exercise of First Amendment rights of all immigrants. The case, on which the ACLU has worked for more than 12 years, involves the government’s effort to deport eight non-citizens because of their political associations and activities.

“Our first goal is to convince the Court that enforcement of our immigration laws must be conducted in a non-discriminatory manner,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “If we fail to do so, we will call on Congress to adopt legislation to ensure that immigrants are not targeted for deportation based on their lawful political activities.”

The government has acknowledged that none of the eight immigrants has engaged in any criminal or violent terrorist activity. Instead, the Justice Department says it seeks to deport them based on their political ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the literature they distributed and their fundraising for humanitarian aid.

“The Court decided the First Amendment issue — an issue that it had explicitly declined to hear when it agreed to consider the case — without the benefit of arguments from any of the parties,” Nojeim added. “We want an opportunity to make that argument, which is why we are filing this petition for rehearing with the Supreme Court.”

In its February decision, the Court found that the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act barred the federal courts from reviewing the immigrants’ selective prosecution claims. The Justices further decided that doing so raised no constitutional problems because aliens have no First Amendment right to object to being singled out for deportation based on their political associations.

“In the United States, no one should be targeted for deportation on account of their political activity,” Nojeim concluded. “Nothing could be more American, in our nation of immigrants, than to ensure that everybody who comes here enjoys constitutional rights.”

The ACLU news release on the decision can be found at:

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