are denouncing a Republican-backed immigration bill introduced Wednesday in
the House of Representatives as a major threat to the ability of bona
fide refugees to gain asylum in the United States and of legal immigrants
to remain here.
The Real ID Act, introduced by the chairman of the
House Judiciary Committee (news – web sites), Rep. James Sensenbrenner, is
aimed at preventing another attack such as those that took place on September
Immigrants with few exceptions are not terrorists,
Sensenbrenner said Wednesday as the House began debate. However, we have to
be able to make sure that the documentation that is used by the people in the
United States accurately states who they are and why they are
But a number of groups spanning the political spectrum from left
to right charged that bills provisions, most of which were tacked onto and
then deleted from the mammoth fiscal 2006 appropriations bill approved late
last year, go much too far and even violate treaty provisions ratified by
The House has made one of its first must-pass bills a
measure that would do little to enhance our security while severely
undermining our national commitment to freedom and liberty, said Timothy
Edgar, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (news – web
sites) (ACLU) in Washington.
This bill takes ideas rejected by
Congress last session and seeks to create significant hurdles to the
persecuted seeking safe haven here, he added.
In particular, according to
Edgar, the bill would make it easier to send asylum-seekers back to the
countries they are fleeing. The bill places the burden of proof on the
asylum-seeker to produce corroborative evidence that they were the subject of
persecution and to show the central intent of the persecutor.
Persecutors rarely leave a paper trail of their actions, much less
their intentions, said Lavinia Limon, president of the U.S. Committee for
Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). These standards would create insurmountable
barriers for many deserving asylum seekers, thwarting core American values
and our tradition of providing refuge to the oppressed.
members of the coalition opposing the bill also objected to the requirement
of corroborative evidence in asylum cases. Such a requirement, according to a
recent Washington Times article by former Republican Rep. Bob Barr and Larry
Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, would (force)
Christians and others fleeing persecution to provide written corroboration
from the very officials they are fleeing.
As with provisions of the USA
Patriot Act, the Real ID Act is opposed by an exceptionally diverse coalition
that, in addition to the ACLU and refugee rights groups, includes Amnesty
International; the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the oldest and largest
Irish-American group; the American Conservative Union; the Free Congress
Foundation; the Republican Liberty Caucus; Episocpal Migration Ministries;
the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Human Rights First; and the
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, among others.
evidentiary hurdles in asylum cases are not the only problems with the bill, according to the groups.
While one amendment is designed to expedite the
receipt of green cards by refugees who have been granted asylum, it would
also reduce the power of the courts to review unlawful actions by the
government in many deportation cases, according to the ACLU. The group said
the provision constituted a direct attack on a recent Supreme Court decision
that held that immigrants convicted of crimes committed many years before may
appeal deportation orders by the immigration service to the
Yet another provision of the Real ID Act would make it possible
to deport long-term, lawful permanent residents for providing humanitarian
support to organizations that the government labels terrorist, even when such
support was completely legal at the time it was provided.
the bill would also retroactively make legal donations to terrorist groups
grounds for deportation of green-card holders, regardless of how long they
have lived in the United States.
The new bill also would force states to
deny drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants. That provision would not
only make state motor vehicle agencies agents of the federal immigration
service, but it would also take a giant step toward the creation of a de
facto national identification card, which has long been a major source of
alarm to progressives and conservatives alike.
That provision could
also become a major road hazard in and of itself, the ACLU said, because it
would lead to an increase in unlicensed drivers, undermining public safety
and increasing insurance rates.
Imagine what would happen if the hundreds
of thousands of undocumented persons in this country began to drive without
passing a drivers test, without getting a license, without insurance, noted
USCRIs Limon. Americans are more likely to be killed in car accidents than in
terrorist attacks, yet this legislation erodes some of the basic protections
that states put in place to ensure everyone behind the wheel knows what