Homeland Persecution

High Court, Ashcroft Target Immigrants

Revolutionary Worker #1198, May 11, 2003, posted at rwor.org

In the name of "homeland security," the U.S. government and courts are making one repressive move after another against immigrant people. Muslim, Arab, and South Asian immigrants have been particular targets--but immigrants of all nationalities are under attack.

The following are two recent anti-immigrant decisions--by the U.S. Supreme Court and by John Ashcroft's Justice Department.

The Supreme Court

On April 30 the Supreme Court upheld stipulations under the so-called "criminal alien" law of 1996 that denies bail to immigrants who are undergoing deportation proceedings.

Before this high court ruling, four separate appeals courts had overturned such mandatory detentions--allowing some of those awaiting deportation to be released on bail. But still, Theodore Olson, Bush's solicitor general, argued that the Supreme Court should reverse those previous rulings. (Olson was the same lawyer who argued for Bush in front of the Supreme Court during the 2000 presidential election uproar.)

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court agreed with the Bush administration and decided in favor of this repressive move.

The ACLU explained one of the implications of the decision: "The immediate result of the ruling will be that many lawful permanent residents who were released on bond as a result of the court of appeals' decisions will be subject to reincarceration, even though the immigration agency concedes that they pose neither a danger nor a flight risk and would not require detention."

Those caught in this legal snare will be held behind bars as they try to fight their deportation, or to take care of their affairs before they are deported to a country that they may not have lived in for many years or even decades.

The 1996 law on "criminal aliens" was rammed through under the justification of fighting crime. The government claimed to target people who have committed an "aggravated felony" or crimes of "moral turpitude." The reality, however, is something else.

The man whose case the Supreme Court ruled on, Hyung Joon Kim, was born in South Korea but has lived in the U.S. since he was 6. He obtained permanent resident (green card) status two years after coming to the U.S. As a teenager Kim, now 25, was convicted of burglary for breaking into a tool shed. A year later he was convicted of petty theft. Because of the earlier conviction, Kim was sentenced to three years in prison for the petty theft charge--making him subject to deportation.

Kim's case is hardly an exception. According to the L.A. Times , "In practice, lesser offenses such as shoplifting and possession of stolen property have been deemed to be aggravated felonies because they resulted in a jail term of one year or more. The ACLU lawyers cited an example of an immigrant in the New York area who was slated for deportation because of his conviction for stealing four packs of cigarettes and a bottle of cold medicine."

The Supreme Court decision affects many tens of thousands of people. According to government figures, 75,000 so-called "criminal aliens" have been taken into custody and deported since 1996--and hundreds more are detained each week. And the government now expects to be able to deport people even more quickly than they already are.

The ruling will also have a chilling effect on all immigrants. In the words of the Washington Post , "The decision puts the nation's estimated 11 million permanent resident immigrants, or `green card' holders, on notice that if they commit certain `aggravated offenses' or offenses of `moral turpitude,' they will serve their sentences -- and then be locked up again by immigration authorities if removal proceedings against them are pending."

The Supreme Court decision also gives further legal power to Ashcroft's Justice Department in its broad-ranging assault on rights--including the type of repressive moves unleashed after 9/11 when the government rounded up 1,200 immigrants. Most of those detained were held for weeks or months without any charges. Paul Kamenar, of the conservative Washington Legal Foundation (which supported the Supreme Court ruling), said, "It strengthens the government's hand in all deportation proceedings."

Attacks on Haitians

On April 17, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft issued an outrageous ruling, which wasn't made public till a week later. Ashcroft declared that some immigrants pose a "national security risk" because they take away resources from the "war on terrorism" and therefore should be detained without bail while seeking asylum.

This goes along with the government's decision in March to automatically detain asylum seekers from 33 Arab and Muslim countries.

In the latest move, Ashcroft invoked a 1996 immigration law which gives the U.S. Attorney General power to deny bail during deportation and asylum proceedings. Ashcroft overruled the decision of immigration courts that had allowed bail for David Joseph, an 18-year-old Haitian man who applied for asylum after coming ashore in Miami with 216 other Haitians on October 29 last year.

Ashcroft said that releasing people like Joseph "would create a perception in Haiti of an easing in U.S. policy" and encourage "future surges in illegal migration by sea...diverting valuable Coast Guard and (Defense Department) resources from counterterrorism and homeland security responsibilities."

Ashcroft also claimed that "terrorists" are using Haiti as an entry point to the U.S. The Miami Herald reported on April 25 that Ashcroft cited a State Department declaration as a basis for his allegation. According to Ashcroft, the State Department "asserts that it has `noticed an increase in third country nations (Pakistanis, Palestinians, etc.) using Haiti as a staging point for attempting migration to the United States. This increases the national security interest in curbing use of this migration route.' "

Ashcroft's outlandish claim puzzled even officials at the State Department. One official told the Herald,"We all are scratching our heads. We are asking each other, `Where did they get that?' "

This would be comical--if it weren't so serious. In this land of "homeland security," immigrants are locked up and treated as possible "terrorists"--just because they've fled political persecution in other countries and asked for political asylum here.

Attorney Philip Hwang of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco told the San Francisco Chronicle , "The frightening thing about what Ashcroft is saying is that, even if there is no proven risk from the individual, [the government assumes] that all immigrants are potential terrorists."

Ashcroft's allegations have outraged the Haitian community. On April 24 activists held a news conference in Miami's Little Haiti to denounce Ashcroft's decision. The executive director of Haitian Women of Miami said, "It is senseless, baseless and racist."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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