Bill of Rights Defense Campaign

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Civil Liberties Issues

Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreign Students

Under the USA PATRIOT Act and other executive branch policy, non-citizens are being deported and detained indefinitely without judicial appeal. Minimal work has been done by legislators to protect the rights of non-citizens, those who have been hurt the most since September 11, 2001, and who have no representation in Congress.

One of the main impacts of the Homeland Security Act was to dissolve the Immigration and Naturalization Service into various offices of the DHS. This action has blended the government’s tasks of preventing terrorism and enforcing immigration policy.

Immigrants and Refugees

Many of these policies have unjustly targeted Arab and Muslim immigrants. On November 9th, 2001 the Attorney General issued a memo explaining how the FBI would interview 5000 Arab/Muslim men in hopes of preventing terrorism. In February of 2002, the DOJ reported that only three of the 2261 men who were interviewed were charged, all with non terrorism-related crimes. Nevertheless, in March 2002, the DOJ announced another round of 3000 interviews.

See Comprehensive Immigration Reform by the National Immigration Forum.

Foreign Students and Visitors

Additionally, a new policy of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) “maintains and manages data about foreign students and exchange visitors during their stay in the United States.” Congress authorized the program in section 641 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996. ICE maintains the database. While the program aims at catching immigration violations, intelligence officers also use SEVIS data to “identify patterns of criminal activity, including terrorism.”


The 287(g) program deputizes local and state police officers to perform immigration enforcement activities on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Though 287(g) requires that officers complete an ICE training program, the Migration Policy Institute has found,

Police departments in [jurisdictions that have signed onto 287(g)] have employed roadblocks and other traffic operations that have resulted in large numbers of arrests in or near immigrant communities, sometimes near public schools or places of worship. In these same communities, we heard reports of police stopping immigrants for a variety of minor traffic violations, including broken taillights or turn signals, cracked windshields, improperly tinted windows, impeding the flow of traffic, failure to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, and having the wrong color warning flag on the rear of a truck.

These operations specifically target Latino immigrant communities in a severe form of racial profiling impacting even US citizens of Latino descent. They carry serious consequences, not only for the families of undocumented individuals deported even before receiving a day in court, but also for their neighborhoods and the larger communities of which they are a part. As a result, the report finds that,

where traffic operations have resulted in removals through the 287(g) program, community respondents were especially likely to report that immigrants were venturing into public places with less frequency, failing to report crimes or otherwise interact with police, interacting less with schools and other institutions, patronizing local businesses less often.

Secure Communities

Documents recently revealed by the FBI show that the Bureau played a significant role in developing the controversial Secure Communities (S-Comm) program. The secrecy underlying this program—and the FBI’s documented strategy to extend it beyond immigrants to include all Americans in the future—is the latest demonstration of the FBI’s continued disregard for civil liberties.

Many organizations, individuals, and even state governments have already spoken out against S-Comm, a program that allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) access to arrest records such as fingerprint data even before the subject is tried or convicted of any crime. While the program was supposedly created to deport undocumented criminals, it has in fact deported hundreds of thousands of undocumented Americans who have never committed a crime, breaking up families (many of which include children or spouses who are US citizens) over mere suspicion of offenses as trivial as a broken taillight.

The controversy over whether states and communities can opt-out of S-Comm heightened two weeks ago when the news broke that the FBI had been pushing S-Comm as a way to build public acceptance of its “Next Generation Identification“ (NGI) project, which would create a database of biometric information such as fingerprints, iris scans, and facial recognition data—of not only immigrants, but all Americans. In other words, the FBI designed this program to use immigrants as the guinea pigs for a national biometric ID system that will eventually include all Americans. In such a system, there would be no ID cards—our bodies would be our IDs.

According to Jessica Karp of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON),

NGI is the next generation Big Brother. It’s a backdoor route to a national ID, to be carried not in a wallet, but within the body itself. The FBI’s biometric-based project is vulnerable to hackers and national security breaches and carries serious risks of identity theft. If your biometric identity is stolen or corrupted in NGI, it will be hard to fix. Unlike an identity card or pin code, biometrics are forever.

This type of data collection, especially through a misleading mandatory program, is an astounding violation of transparency principles and an unprecedented invasion into the privacy of law-abiding Americans. The program unfortunately reflects a pattern that has recurred throughout the last decade: the FBI’s violations of constitutional rights under Mueller include infiltrating religious institutions, raiding the homes of activists engaging in First Amendment-protected activities, and large-scale wiretapping beyond even what the PATRIOT Act allows.

Other Resources

Building Bridges with Arab and Muslim Community Members
Threatened Communities
Detention Centers: Is there a detention center near you?
Guantánamo Bay abuses