Congress members push for civil rights in immigration reform

Last week, Representatives John Lewis, Judy Chu, Joe Garcia and Lucille Roybal-Allard led 32 of their colleagues in sending a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate urging them to ensure that legislation to reform our broken immigration system includes strong civil rights and due process protections.Specifically, the letter states that any immigration reform bill considered by Congress should require that those detained by our immigration authorities are allowed a fair hearing before a judge and access to counsel. In addition, the letter asserts that federal immigration authorities should explicitly reject racial, religious and ethnic profiling and operate with greater transparency and accountability. "America is a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants," said Rep. Chu (CA-27). "Our founding principles commit us to the ideal that all people - regardless of their background - are created equal and deserve the same protection under our laws. It is vital that any immigration reform package recognize that fact by including strong civil rights and due process protections." "Immigration reform is one of the great civil rights causes of our time," said Rep. Roybal-Allard (CA-40). "Far too many detained immigrants, including children and the mentally disabled, continue to face the devastating prospect of deportation without the assistance of counsel. "Moreover, according to data obtained by Syracuse University, over the past four years our immigration authorities have mistakenly issued more than 800 orders to lock up U.S. citizens, blatantly violating their constitutional rights. Now is the time for real reform that ends these abuses and finally brings our broken immigration system into line with our most basic American values." The full letter appears below:

Dear House and Senate Leaders, As the 113th Congress begins, the need to enact comprehensive immigration reform has never been more pressing. As part of this discussion, we believe the bill must protect the civil rights and civil liberties of all people as promised in our Constitution. America is a nation of values, founded on the idea that all people are created equal under - the law, no matter what they look like or where they came from. Our immigration laws should reflect our commitment to these American values. They should be grounded in civil and human rights and ensure due process, equal treatment, and fairness. Current immigration enforcement practices tear families apart and hurt people who know America as their only home. More than one in every five individuals deported are parents of U.S. citizens. Thousands, including those seeking asylum, are unnecessarily detained at great expense to taxpayers even though they pose no threat to public safety. Our laws mandate detention or deportation for many people, denying them access to a hearing before a judge, in a system that does not guarantee legal counsel for those who cannot afford it. Immigration enforcement measures frequently target minority and immigrant communities through impermissible racial, religious and ethnic profiling that instills fear and distrust of law enforcement and makes communities less safe. Our system is not fair. It is unnecessarily punitive. Today, America is at a crossroads. The question we face is not only how much enforcement we need, but how we will ensure that enforcement is consistent with our nation's values. We renew our commitment to fight for principled immigration reform that does the following:

1. Provides an enforcement process that matches our values. To the greatest extent possible, we should strive for a process that includes a fair hearing before a judge, a bond hearing, federal court review, and access to counsel.

2. Provides for the humane treatment of everyone detained by immigration authorities.

3. Reduces the impact of enforcement on children and families.

4. Clarifies that immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility and that it should be administered uniformly across the country.

5. Explicitly rejects discrimination and racial, religious and ethnic profiling.

6. Ensures that all agencies charged with enforcement operate with accountability and transparency.

In this immigration reform effort, we must not lose sight of the imperative to create an immigration system that is consistent with our nation's values, including the protection of civil and human rights, and our Constitution.

********** Published: April 18, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 01