John Conyers, Jr. is a United States Congressman representing Michigan’s 14th district.
Like a bad cold, anti-immigration legislation is back again. Last year, the GOP tried to attach anti- immigrant provisions to the legislation on 9/11 intelligence reform, even though the 9/11 commissioners and the vast majority of the 9/11 families opposed their inclusion. This year, House Republicans have repackaged their anti-immigrant agenda into the so- called “REAL ID Act,” which they attached with little notice to the House version of the Iraq Supplemental Appropriations legislation.
The legislation includes numerous provisions limiting our asylum laws, making it easier to deport legal immigrants, denying immigrants long-standing habeas corpus rights, imposing onerous new driver’s license requirements on the states, and waiving all federal laws concerning the construction of security fences and barriers. If enacted into law, this legislation will close America’s doors to Cubans fleeing Castro; religious minorities escaping religious persecution; and women fleeing sex trafficking, rape and forced abortions.
The asylum provisions would make it significantly harder for people fleeing persecution to prove their asylum claims by raising the evidentiary requirements and imposing harsh new corroboration requirements. Refugees who cannot meet the higher standards will be returned to countries where they were persecuted, possibly to face terror, torture and death. In essence, the proponents are using the public’s fear of terrorism to radically change asylum law for all asylees – not just those with some connection to terrorism – even though the USA PATRIOT Act already bars terrorists from being eligible for asylum protection in the United States.
In addition, the bill creates broad new grounds for inadmissability and deportation. Immigrants will be deportable for even remote connections to organizations that now meet overly broad definitions of terrorism. Under these standards, Nelson Mandela would have been inadmissible for his support of the African National Congress, which fought racial segregation in South Africa. Individuals holding green cards could be separated from their families and deported for making a donation for tsunami relief to an organization they were not aware was affiliated with the Tamil Tiger rebels, unless they can prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that they did not know that the charity was connected to the rebels – a nearly impossible evidentiary standard.
Under the proposed new habeas corpus restrictions, immigrants will be prevented in most cases from challenging their deportation in court. This means that parents with U.S. citizen children could be deported on erroneous factual determinations without any court review. Ironically, the same Republican Party that just called an “emergency legislative session” to champion habeas corpus review for Terri Schiavo is seeking to gut habeas for deserving immigrants and their families.
The driver’s license provisions negate a carefully negotiated bipartisan compromise law and would instead mandate federal one-size-fits-all driver’s license standards without any input from the states that must issue them. In so doing, the legislation will prevent millions of immigrants from not only obtaining driver’s licenses, but from being able to buy automobile insurance. The result will inevitably be far more dangerous highways and more accidents involving uninsured drivers. At the same time, the driver’s license provisions threaten the civil liberties of American citizens by creating a massive new database run by the government, in which all of our personal information will be stored. The legislation contains virtually no safeguards against abuse or misuse of the information.
Equally repugnant is the fact that the REAL ID bill waives all federal, state and local laws to build immigration barriers and fences. This tramples laws protecting a range of rights, including Native American burial rights and laws protecting environmental degradation. The new law goes so far as to waive labor and even criminal laws. We have to ask ourselves whether rapid construction of these security barriers are worth the precedent of throwing our entire legal system out the window.
In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, the REAL ID bill would further target immigrants for crimes they have not committed, and sins for which they are not responsible. At some point, we have to treat terrorism as a problem that requires an intelligence response, as opposed to an excuse to scapegoat immigrants. If we truly believe all the rhetoric we hear about the importance of freedom and liberty from the president and others, we will reject this legislation, which denies so much freedom and liberty to immigrants in our own country.