Sensenbrenner Renews Assault on Immigrants' Rights; ACLU Says Measure Would Hurt Persecuted Seeking Sanctuary

January 26, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today opposed legislation introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), calling it an unnecessary assault on immigrants. The Sensenbrenner legislation includes several controversial provisions that were pulled from the intelligence reform legislation adopted by Congress last year.

“The Sensenbrenner legislation seeks to create significant hurdles to those suffering persecution in their home countries who seek the safe haven of American shores,” said Timothy H. Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The bill would do little to enhance our security, but it would undermine our national commitment to freedom and liberty.”

The Sensenbrenner legislation exacerbates already troubling drivers license provisions in the intelligence reform legislation by forcing states to deny drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants in violation of their own policies. The use of state motor vehicle agencies as agents of the federal immigration service would further the growing trend, alarming both conservatives and progressives, of transforming drivers licenses into de facto national ID cards.

The ACLU noted that the Sensenbrenner legislation is the first of what could be many attempts to further federalize the issuance of identification cards – a power normally delegated to the states. The use of state motor vehicle agencies as agents of the federal immigration service would also lead to an increase in unlicensed drivers, undermining public safety and increasing insurance rates for everyone. Motor vehicles employees lack training in federal immigration law, and are likely instead to rely on ethnic profiling based on notions of who “looks foreign.”

The bill is also expected to include a measure that allows government officials, contrary to international law, to demand written “corroboration,” such as police reports or other official documents, of asylum claims. Federal law already gives officials ample discretion to deny improper asylum claims, and asylum applicants are subject to much more extensive scrutiny than virtually any other pool of non-citizens seeking to come to the United States.

Others have expressed concerns over the immigration proposals. Former Congressman Bob Barr and the Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, Larry Pratt, wrote in a Washington Times op-ed last November that the asylum provisions called for by Sensenbrenner would “[force] Christians and others fleeing prosecution to provide written ‘corroboration’ from the very officials they are fleeing.” The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society issued a report on Monday denouncing the measures.

Judge Michael Chertoff, the Bush Administration’s nominee to head the Homeland Security Department, also has protested the practice of improperly demanding corroborating documents from repressive governments. In Chen v. Attorney General (Nov. 25, 2003), the Third Circuit affirmed the denial of an asylum claim involving a Chinese woman who was forced to undergo sterilization procedures and an abortion.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Chertoff castigated the immigration appeals board for relying on the lack of a certificate showing the date of the abortion in denying the claim. Chertoff noted that, “Chen submitted a State Department report stating that Chinese authorities do not issue abortion certificates for involuntary abortions. If so, that would seem a pretty persuasive reason why no such certificate could be provided to corroborate an involuntary abortion.”

Another provision of the Sensenbrenner bill, which has been strongly opposed by Irish-American groups, would make it possible to deport long-term lawful permanent residents for providing non-violent, humanitarian support to organizations later labeled as “terrorist” by the government, even where such support was completely legal at the time it was provided.

The bill would retroactively make entirely legal donations, even donations made decades ago, a ground of deportation to green-card holders who have lived here for decades if the organization to which a donation was made is later added to a government terrorist list. The Patriot Act already allows the government to deny entry to non-citizens outside the country on this basis.

“This bill would make it increasingly difficult for persecuted people to obtain asylum in America,” Edgar added. “Those fleeing their home countries to seek asylum in American don’t have the luxury to obtain what amount to an explanatory note from their persecutors. This wrong-headed measure must be rejected.”

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