On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, we are writing to voice our strong opposition to the REAL ID Act of 2005 (H.R. 418), which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last month. In particular, we wish to highlight our concerns with Section 102, a grossly irresponsible and dangerous power grab that would grant the head of a government agency the unchecked, blanket authority to ignore federal, state and local laws.
While the REAL ID Act includes many troubling provisions, Section 102 would take us down an especially slippery slope. This provision would permit the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive “all laws” that the Secretary – at his own discretion, and without judicial review – determines would interfere with the construction of barriers and roads along our nation’s borders. Under Section 102, the Secretary’s decision would be totally exempt from judicial review, seriously undermining our constitutional system of checks and balances.
Many have characterized Section 102’s impact as minimal. In fact, the provision is far broader and would affect every community, as it would permit the DHS Secretary to override any laws – civil rights, environmental, health and safety, labor, criminal, and even freedom of information laws and other safeguards meant specifically to prevent governmental abuses of power.
Nor is this provision limited to a single fencing project along the San Diego border. Rather, it would apply to all areas along our borders with both Mexico and Canada, as well as our coastlines. Never before has any federal agency or official been provided with such a blanket exemption from the rule of law. It would not only be unprecedented and unjustified, but as the history of the United States as well as that of other nations clearly demonstrates, it would be a dangerous amount of power to bestow on one government official.
H.R. 418, in its entirety, is an ill-conceived legislative proposal that ignores basic American values of fairness and decency and undermines the rule of law. H.R. 418 would not make us safer nor reform our broken immigration system, but instead would threaten the rights and liberties of all American citizens and non-citizens.
America is a country of immigrants, and we believe immigrants are a strong and valuable part of the social fabric of this nation. H.R. 418, and particularly Section 102, is an irresponsible and dangerous attempt to undermine our democratic system of checks and balances by capitalizing on anti-immigrant sentiment and fear. This is unacceptable and should not be allowed.
We urge you to oppose H.R. 418 and we would discourage any attempt to bypass the regular order by attaching H.R. 418 to any military funding, disaster relief or other supplemental legislation.
Thank you for your consideration. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Rob Randhava, LCCR Counsel, at 202-466-6058, or Ilia Rodriguez, PFAW Senior Legislative Representative, at 202-467-2305.
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Americans for Democratic Action
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
Center for Community Change
Fair Immigration Reform Movement
Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quaker)
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
Legal Momentum (the new name of NOW Legal Defense & Educ. Fund)
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
National Council of La Raza
National Immigration Forum
National Korean American Service and Education Consortium
National Network to End Violence Against Immigrant Women
National Organization for Women
National Women’s Law Center
New York Immigration Coalition
People For the American Way
Presbyterian Church (USA), Washington Office
Service Employees International Union (SEIU), AFL-CIO
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations