Legislators act to restore civil liberties in post
July 27, 2004
On June 16, those concerned about the endangerment
of civil rights in post-9/11 America welcomed the introduction
of the Civil Liberties Restoration Act (CLRA) (S. 2528 and H.R.
4591) to the Senate and the House of Representatives. The act seeks
to curtail certain provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, which many
believe to have compromised the personal freedoms of American citizens,
residents, and visitors alike.
Proponents of the CLRA (Human Rights Watch, the
Arab American Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union, and
the American Immigration
Lawyers Association, among others) contend that many aspects of
the legislation enacted in response to the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2002, have unfairly scrutinized and targeted the
immigrant community while doling out harsh penalties for minor
Supporters of the bill cite as evidence the Justice
Inspector General Report on individuals detained for reasons related
to the 9/11 attacks. Since the attacks, the document discloses,
the government has unjustly detained hundreds of people with no
ties to terrorists or terrorist activity. Some of these individuals
have not been allowed to contact family, consult legal counsel,
or otherwise enjoy the full protection of their civil liberties.
In accordance with these concerns, the objectives
of the CLRA include to: end the government's ability to issue a
closing all deportation hearings to the public and to family
members of detainees; eliminate penalties deemed too strict
for minor infractions
addressed in the PATRIOT Act; ensure due process for individuals
detained on suspicion of immigrant violations; establish an
independent immigration court; ensure that individuals charged
with a crime
based upon national security provisions of the PATRIOT Act
have appropriate access to the evidence against them; require that
the government produce continual reports on its data-mining
to ensure the protection of civil liberties; limit the covert
seizure of private databases and individual records to cases
in which the
government has demonstrated a reasonable connection to a suspected
terrorist or terrorist group.
The IAPAC is especially supportive
of Section 301 of the CLRA, regarding the National Security Entry-Exit
(NSEERS). The NSEERS system mandates extensive surveillance
and documentation of nationals from countries perceived as
security risks, and it includes exit controls that will enable
law enforcement officers to remove foreign visitors who overstay
their visas. Sec. 301 calls for:
The termination of the NSEERS program.
The administrative closure of all removal proceedings against aliens
that have come about as a result of the NSEERS program.
The right of any alien who has received a final order of removal
as a result of the NSEERS program to file a motion to reopen the
removal proceeding and apply for any relief he or she may be eligible
The House version of the CLRA is sponsored by Representatives
Howard Berman (D-CA) and Bill Delahunt (D-MA). The Senate version
being sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Russell Feingold
(D-WI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and Jon
On the other hand, Republicans have introduced to Congress legislation
increasing the stringency of immigration laws and governmental
control over immigration in order to counter terrorism. Two such
bills are the Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal
(CLEAR) Act (H.R. 2671) and the Stop Terrorists Entry Program
(STEP) Act (H.R. 3075).
These acts - both of which emerged in 2003
for various measures, including: the expansion of responsibility
over immigration laws to state and local authorities; the collection
and submission of information about violators of those laws
to the government; the increase in penalties for violations of
law; the refusal of entry to the United States of individuals
from states deemed to be sponsors of terrorism.
However, as the Civil Liberties Restoration Act illustrates,
growing concerns in Congress about the potential and actual excesses
governmental powers have resulted in various attempts to curtail
the dangerous provisions of the PATRIOT Act. Other legislation
includes the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act (S.1709) and
its counterpart in the House of Representatives, the Otter Amendment
(H.R.3352), which nullifies a section of the PATRIOT Act authorizing
federal agents to conduct covert searches of private residences
without notifying the occupants for an undetermined period of time.
Additionally, the "Protecting the Rights of Individuals" (S.1552)
and "Freedom to Read Protection" (H.R.1157) Acts of
2003 both aim to limit some of the powers given to government
agencies under the PATRIOT Act.
Notably, support for these bills has extended beyond party lines.
The SAFE Act was introduced by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and
Larry Craig (R-DI) and currently has 19 cosponsors; the Otter Amendment
was introduced by Rep. C.L. Butch Otter (R-ID) and passed in the
House of Representatives by a vote of 309 to 118; the "Protecting
the Rights of Individuals" Act is sponsored by Senators Lisa
Murkowski (R-AK) and Ron Wyden (D-OR); the "Freedom to Read
Protection Act" was introduced by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont)
and currently has 145 cosponsors, although it recently met defeat
in an intense House battle.
The immense, multi-party support for these measures demonstrates
the growing concern among Americans of all political ideologies
that many of the policies imposed by the government in reaction
to 9/11 have posed a real and serious threat to their constitutional
liberties. If you feel the same way, you can write to your representatives
in Congress and inform them of your concern about the endangerment
of personal liberties in present-day America.
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