Washington, DC, March 28, 2006 â€“Washington, D.C. â€“ The Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 12 to 6 sent an amended version of Senator Arlen Specter's (R-PA) immigration bill to the Senate floor for full debate.
The Asian American Justice Center commends the Senate Judiciary Committee for working in a bipartisan partnership to develop a bill that seeks to comprehensively reform the immigration system. AAJC, however, continues to raise concerns about draconian provisions that remain in the bill that severely undermine the civil liberties and human rights of immigrants and their families.
AAJC is pleased that the Specter bill contains some elements of a comprehensive approach to immigration, including provisions to address the outrageously long family backlogs, an earned path to legal permanent residency and citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants, and a temporary work program also with a path to legal permanent residency and citizenship for those who choose to make the U.S. their home. Additionally, the bill includes a program to provide more protections to agricultural workers and a path to legal permanent residency and citizenship for college age students, known as the DREAM Act.
However, the Specter bill also contains numerous harsh and unworkable provisions including those that would:
Seek to overturn Supreme Court decision barring indefinite detention which is a particular problem for immigrants from China and Southeast Asia;
Expand the government's authority to remove immigrants without any judicial process which should be of particular concern to immigrants from China, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh;
Give low level U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service personnel unreviewable authority to judge good moral character of an applicant for citizenship;
Make even minor offenses a trigger for deportation;
Require detention of immigrants, without any individualized consideration of whether detention is necessary; and
Give local police inherent authority to enforce complicated immigration laws and detain those whom they simply believe to be in violation.
The current House bill, H.R. 4437, is even more problematic. It focuses only on enforcement and does not address a fix for our broken immigration system. It contains not only the harsh and unworkable provisions of Specter bill, but contains even worse provisions. While the current law is intended to target smugglers and not innocent aid, the House bill would make it a criminal felony for anyone who provided humanitarian or other assistance to an undocumented person or their family. Felony charges can also be imposed on anyone knowingly entering or becoming out of legal status, such as overstaying a visitors or work visa --- a matter that is currently handled as a civil violation. The Specter bill initially contained similar provisions; however, exemptions were added by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), had already introduced an enforcement-heavy bill, similar to the House bill.
"We hope that as the debate continues to unfold in Congress that greater attention is paid to these issues and that further amendments are made to address the fatal flaws in the various bills. It is critical that Asian Americans let their senators and representatives know that Congress needs to fix the broken system and protect the civil liberties and human rights of everyone in America, including immigrants," said Karen K. Narasaki, president and executive director of AAJC.