Senate Immigration Bill Lacks Privacy and Due Process Protections, ACLU Says; Lawmakers Must Fix Shortcomings in Proposed Legislation

March 2, 2006 12:00 am


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WASHINGTON – As the Senate Judiciary Committee met today to begin consideration of legislation concerning immigration, the American Civil Liberties Union urged lawmakers to make changes to the underlying bill to better protect the privacy and civil liberties of all persons in the country, citizens and non-citizens alike. Last year, the House passed a border security and immigration reform bill that greatly undermines the freedoms of all Americans.

“While better than the House bill, the Senate bill still requires substantial improvement, or it should not go forward,” said Timothy D. Sparapani, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Our nation’s immigration systems can be reformed without sacrificing our fundamental freedoms and privacy. Senators still have ample time to address the serious privacy and civil liberties concerns with the bill, time that they must use.”

The bill, the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006,” is to be marked-up by the Senate Judiciary Committee over the next several weeks. The ACLU noted that while the Senate bill recognizes that “enforcement-only” approaches to immigration reform do not work, some provisions of the underlying measure would expand deeply flawed policies that have already eroded due process and civil liberties.

One major point of contention is the lack of privacy protections in the proposed Employment Verification System. Like the House bill, the Senate bill would require – for the first time – all workers to obtain a federal agency’s permission to work. All employers would be required to participate in a national employment eligibility verification program in an expansion of the faulty but voluntary “Basic Pilot” program in current law.

The new program would likely use an Internet-based system to check the names and social security numbers of all employees — citizens and non-citizen alike — against two government agencies databases. But, legislators have not mandated that the private information flowing to and from the government be encrypted or that the databases be secured. Thus, the data provides a ripe target for identity thieves.

Such a move would place a huge burden on both employers and workers. The non-partisan Government Accountability Office reported that conservative estimates of the cost of implementation are at least $11.7 billion annually, a large share of which would be shouldered by businesses. Also, even assuming a near-perfect accuracy rate in the program, millions of legal, eligible American workers could still have their right to work seriously delayed or denied – while they fight bureaucratic red tape to resolve errors. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations have expressed strong objections to the employment verification provisions.

The Senate bill also unwisely proposes to direct all immigration appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Congress has yet to fully consider this radical proposal, which would undermine the rights of immigrants to judicial review. Furthermore, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has no experience with immigration, civil rights, or related constitutional claims – claims that could overwhelm the court.

The government also would be given extraordinary powers to detain non-citizens indefinitely without meaningful review under the Senate bill. This move would potentially place many non-citizens in a legal “black hole” that subjects them to a life sentence after having served a criminal sentence, or, in some cases, without ever having been convicted of a crime.

The Senate bill also includes many other provisions with potentially adverse civil liberties consequences, including sections that would further militarize the border and deploy -without adequate consideration for privacy – high technology surveillance systems, and would impose mandatory minimums and new death penalties.

“The Senate’s bill is filled with provisions that would have serious unintended consequences that would undermine due process and invite invasions of personal privacy,” Sparapani added. “These proposals deserve the careful review and modification by the Senate. We urge Senators to place robust privacy and civil liberties safeguards into law, and reject attempts to rush a flawed bill.”

The ACLU’s Interested Person’s Memo on the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006” is at:
/immigrants/gen/24336leg20060301.html

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