Further Action on Anti-Terrorism Bill Needed

Date: Sat, 20 Oct 2001 20:13:50 -0400 (EDT)

Dear All,

As the forwarded e-mail below explains, the possibility that immigrants could be indefinitely detained under the anti-terrorism bill persists. Two Representatives have, however, proposed an amendment that will eliminate this possibility. Please call, fax, or e-mail your Congresspeople asking them to urge the Congressional leadership to include this Berman-Cannon amendment in the final version of the anti-terrorism bill. You can find their contact information at http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/. You can also quickly contact your Senators and Representative on this issue through http://capwiz.com/lchr/issues/alert/?alertid=63992. Please act quickly, as a vote on the final bill could occur on Tuesday. More information is provided below. Thank you.



"I have only dreams: to build a better world, a world of harmony and understanding, a world in which it is a joy to live. This is not asking for too much." -- Yitzhak Rabin

---------- Forwarded message ----------


October 18, 2001: House and Senate are Considering Last-Minute Change that Would Prevent Indefinite Detention

In lieu of conference committee, House and Senate leaders are informally discussing changes to the counter-terrorism bill they hope to pass by Tuesday. For more information contact Susan Benesch beneschs@lchr.org (202) 547-5692

In a last-minute effort to address serious due process concerns, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) have proposed a modification to the Attorney General's detention powers in pending counter-terrorism legislation. Last week the House and Senate passed similar versions of the "Uniting and Strengthening America" (USA) bill, which would grant new power to the Attorney General to detain non-U.S. citizens for extended periods with limited judicial review. House and Senate leaders have decided not to hold a conference committee to reconcile the two versions of the bill. Instead they are meeting informally to come up with a final bill on which both Houses of Congress are expected to vote next Tuesday.

The Lawyers Committee urges the House and Senate leadership to add Rep. Berman and Cannon's language to the bill, which is described below.

Indefinite Detention Under The Bill

Under the current bill, the Attorney General would have the power to "certify" any non-U.S. citizen as a threat to national security, based on "reasonable grounds" for the suspicion. Once certified, a person would be detained immediately, and could be held for up to seven days without charge. After seven days, the government would be required to charge the detainee, either with a crime or with a violation of immigration law. A criminal charge would lead to a trial. An immigration violation - such as overstaying a tourist visa or accepting employment while here on a student visa - would normally lead to immigration hearings that could result in deportation.

A person could be detained indefinitely, under the USA legislation, when he or she has been charged with an immigration violation but cannot be deported. This might be, for example, because the detainee brings her case before a U.S. immigration judge, and the judge rules that the government's case for deporting her is groundless. That would not get the detainee released. And the USA legislation, as drafted, explicitly states that "relief from removal" (deportation) is not relief from detention - such a ruling by a judge would not be enough to get a detainee out of prison. These provisions could apply to any non-U.S. citizens, even legal permanent residents.

The Berman-Cannon amendment

Reps. Berman and Cannon have proposed a minor change to the language of the bill that would prevent the government from indefinitely detaining an immigrant who cannot be deported. This might occur either because a judge has found that the detainee has not violated our immigration laws or because, while the immigrant has been found to be deportable, his or her country refuses to accept the detainee back. As Rep. Berman wrote in an Oct. 16 letter to Congressional leadership, the House Judiciary Committee never intended to permit indefinite detention of non-U.S. citizens. He wrote "when considering this potentially misdrafted portion of the bill, we must contemplate whether we would want our loved ones traveling to a country whose laws permit an individual without the right to counsel to be held indefinitely, even after they had been cleared by a court. If this happened to an American abroad, the American people would be outraged."

The Lawyers Committee is deeply concerned about the adoption of this legislation in its current form. We urge the Congressional leadership to add the Berman-Cannon amendment to the current version of the USA bill. In the wake of September 11, there is an urgent need to prevent attacks against Americans and ensure public safety. However new legislation can achieve these goals without undermining our fundamental freedoms.


Please call or fax your Members of Congress immediately and ask them to urge their congressional leadership to add the Berman-Cannon amendment to the anti-terrorism bill. To take action, go to http://capwiz.com/lchr/issues/alert/?alertid=63992

This legislation has been under almost daily negotiation. LCHR has been involved throughout the process, urging that critical due process protections be included. Click here http://www.lchr.org/aftersept/aftersept.htm to read our analysis of earlier versions of the bills. The proposed legislation limits detainees' access to the courts. Here is a sample letter to fax to Congress:

Dear Member of Congress:

I am deeply concerned about provisions in proposed counter-terrorism legislation that would deny due process protections and preclude meaningful judicial review of the Attorney General's new detention powers. Please urge the Congressional leadership to add the Amendment that has been proposed by Reps. Berman and Cannon. It would explicitly rule out the possibility of indefinite detention of non-citizens who cannot be deported.

This legislation requires serious consideration so that it both protects our safety and upholds our values.


Back to Better World.