April 10, 2002
The Honorable James Sensenbrenner, Chairman
The Honorable John Conyers, Ranking Member
House Committee on the Judiciary
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Sensenbrenner and Ranking Member Conyers:
We, the undersigned organizations, are writing in regard to H.R. 3231, the Barbara Jordan Immigration Reform and Accountability Act of 2002. As organizations dedicated to protecting the human and civil rights of the millions of immigrants whose lives are impacted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, we believe that the reforms envisioned in H.R. 3231, on their own, will leave unresolved some of the most serious problems in the way that the INS treats newcomers to our country. Any meaningful reform of the INS must include not only major structural changes, but also changes in the substance of the laws that the agency is charged with enforcing. Many of the harshest and most unfair enforcement practices of the INS, practices that have drawn immense public scrutiny in recent years, are rooted in not only the misplaced priorities of a broken agency but also in statutory mandates that desperately cry out for reform. Accordingly, we respectfully urge you, as you push toward the enactment of an INS overhaul, to also work for reform in three key areas where there is already bi-partisan agreement that change is necessary in order to restore public confidence in our immigration system and reaffirm our nation’s long-standing commitment to protecting the right of every person to due process under law:
· Restoring Due Process and Fundamental Fairness for Legal Permanent Residents: Several bi-partisan bills have been introduced in this Congress that seek to alleviate the all-too-frequent hardships faced by long-term legal permanent residents and their families under the mandatory detention and deportation provisions of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). Enacted with the legitimate goal of increasing the power of the INS to quickly deport immigrants convicted of serious crimes, IIRIRA’s provisions have, tragically, cast too wide a net. The laws blindly and indiscriminately subject any legal resident convicted of virtually any criminal offense to a “one size fits all” remedy of lifetime deportation, making any equitable factors ? such as evidence of rehabilitation, length of residency, family and community ties, the seriousness of the offense, and the simple question of whether deportation in a particular case would truly further public safety ? totally irrelevant as a matter of law. Veterans who have honorably served our country and young Americans who do not even remember their countries of birth alike have, regardless of the particular offenses, been treated just as harshly under our immigration laws as illegal immigrants who have committed the most heinous, violent crimes imaginable. Bills that would address these overly harsh, and disproportionate laws include: The Family Reunification Act of 2001 (H.R. 1452), introduced by Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL); the Restoration of Fairness in Immigration Act of 2002 (H.R. 3894), introduced by Representative John Conyers (D-MI) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL); and the Keeping Families Together Act of 2001 (H.R. 87), introduced by Representative Bob Filner (D-CA).
· Protection for Unaccompanied Children: The Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act of 2001 (H.R. 1904), introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Chris Cannon (R-UT), will end the shameful way our current laws treat the thousands of children who come to the United States alone each year and get lost within a system that even most adults with attorneys cannot navigate. Children come to this country alone for a number of reasons: some to escape political persecution, others to flee civil war, famine, abusive families, slavery, forced conscription in the military or other inhumane conditions. When they arrive, many children have no legal status or support system. Frequently unaware of their rights, they are often locked up in juvenile detention facilities with violent teenage offenders and are left to fend for themselves against experienced INS attorneys in removal proceedings. As a result, many children are cast away after a cursory hearing with no follow-up to determine their fate.
· Preserving Our Commitment to Refugees: The Refugee Protection Act of 2002 (H.R. 4074), introduced by Reps. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Howard Berman (D-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and William Delahunt (D-MA), will prevent IIRIRA’s expedited removal and detention policies from being applied to people who come here legitimately seeking a safe haven from persecution. Expedited removal gives INS inspectors at airports and other ports of entry unprecedented power to make on-the-spot decisions to summarily exclude people who arrive without valid travel documents, a power previously entrusted to immigration judges. While expedited removal is not supposed to be used to remove asylum seekers, the provisions are so lacking in procedural safeguards that mistaken deportations are inevitable. Many asylum seekers are forced to flee for their lives before obtaining proper travel documents from the governments persecuting them, and many of them arrive here traumatized and unable to effectively articulate their pleas for help. In decisions made by low-level INS inspectors, many are turned away as a result. Other asylum seekers, even after being found to have a credible fear of persecution, are detained while their cases are pending, for months or even years in prisons or prison-like facilities where their needs are often neglected.
The problems outlined above have long defied any sort of administrative solutions, and no amount of changes to the internal structure of the INS will minimize the harsh impact of immigration laws that are themselves fundamentally flawed. Even in the limited instances where the INS does have the discretion under current law to treat immigrants in a sensible and humane manner, it too often fails to exercise that discretion because the laws provide the agency with no statutory incentive to do so. Our immigration system certainly needs a major facelift, and we are recognize that the Committee is working to provide the INS with one, but we must also emphasize the continuing need to reform the heart and soul of our immigration laws as well. The above bipartisan measures will go a long way in achieving true and lasting reform, and we urge you to work for their passage. Thank you for your consideration of our views.
American Civil Liberties Union
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Citizens and Immigrants for Equal Justice
Episcopal Migration Ministries
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Immigration and Refugee Services of America
Lawyers Committee for Human Rights
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
National Immigration Forum
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
World Organization Against Torture USA
cc: Members, House Committee on the Judiciary