Thursday, May 31, 2007

The (sad) state of due process

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses
Yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Sameh Khouzam is an Egyptian and is a Coptic Christian. Coptic Christians in Egypt number in the millions but over the years have come under increasing threat from Islamic leaders and the state police. Under threat of torture due to his religious beliefs and his refusal to convert to Islam, Sameh fled Egypt in 1998 and came to the United States. U.S. authorities detained him when he arrived in the United States.

Sameh then spent eight years in US prisons, including York County Prison, while he awaited the outcome of his application for asylum. In 2004, he won a "deferral of removal" under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) (PDF) to stop his deportation, and in 2006, he finally walked free. He has been living in York and working in Lancaster since that time.

In January, the Department of Homeland Security decided to revoke his deferral of removal, which they have the power to do. (Incredibly, a department within the executive branch has the power to overrule a ruling from a federal court, a power that the ACLU opposes.) Under the conditions of his release, Sameh checks in with the government once every three weeks, which he has done faithfully since his release.

Despite knowing that his deferral had been revoked since January, the government just informed Sameh on Tuesday that he will be deported back to Egypt. On Friday. And then they said that they told him on Tuesday so that he would have time to challenge it legally. They gave him 72 hours to challenge, even though they’ve known for four months.

We are urging people to call Senators Specter and Casey and Reps. Pitts and Platts. We are asking them to contact DHS and the Department of State to intervene on Sameh’s behalf. These calls need to be made this afternoon! Congress is not in session, so these Congressmen should be in their home offices:

Senator Specter: 215-597-7200
Senator Casey: 570-941-0930
Rep. Platts: 717-600-1919
Rep. Pitts: 717-393-0667

Sameh's right to due process has been trampled, and he is under threat of religious persecution in Egypt. An activist friend of ours says, "His life is on the line."

Update: 3:00pm: We just received word that Sameh received a stay until June 7 from the federal court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Thankfully, there is someone remaining in the government who recognizes the right to due process.

This positive outcome, however, does not detract from the point that DHS' handling of this situation is seriously flawed. If they made a decision in January to deport him on June 1, the sensible and just action to take would have been to inform him immediately in order to give him time to respond. 72 hours for a response before sending him back to his torturers is not just.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Day of Action to Restore Law & Justice

Had enough of the Bush administration running roughshod over our most fundamental constitutional rights?

If you want to help restore habeas corpus and due process, end torture and abuse in secret prisons, and close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, then join the ACLU and numerous other organizations in Washington DC on June 26th for a Day of Action. From 11:30-1 there will be a rally at Upper Senate Park. In the afternoon we will storm the Hill and tell our elected officials that they need to stand up for freedom and fairness.

Buses will be departing from Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia that morning. To reserve a spot on the bus, register here.

For more information on the event, including a list of local co-sponsors, click here.

If you can't make it on the 26th, make sure to sign the petition that will delivered to lawmakers that day.

Hope to see you on the 26th!

Sara in Philly


Thursday, May 24, 2007

American majority: Make them legal

A new NY Times/CBS News poll shows 2/3 of respondents favor allowing illegal immigrants to become legal. And there is little partisan difference:
Many Republican lawmakers have rejected this plan, calling it amnesty that rewards immigrants who broke the law when they entered the United States. But the poll showed that differences are not great between Republicans and Democrats on this issue, with 66 percent of Republicans in the poll favoring the legalization proposal, as well as 72 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents.

And a whopping 76% of respondents agreed that undocumented immigrants should have the opportunity to apply for citizenship.

As an aside, I'm not sure what to make of the 67% for legalization (question 63 on page 27 of the results (PDF)) and the 76% for citizenship (question 72 on page 28). It must have something to do with the wording of the question. Regardless, these results match the results of other recent polls.

The Lou-and-Lou (as in Dobbs and Barletta) race-baiting dog-and-pony show just doesn't cut it with the American people.

Andy in Harrisburg


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What they're saying about the immigration deal

National Immigration Law Center:
(T)he deal that Senate negotiators have consummated is a step in the wrong direction. Although the deal includes the DREAM Act and AgJOBS and promises significant short-term benefits for many undocumented immigrants, the nation's experience suggests that the rest of the provisions would have dire long-term consequences for both immigrants and citizens.

ACLU, Washington Legislative Office:
While language has not been finalized for large parts of the bill, we do know that some of the worst proposals from last year's immigration debate did not make it in this time around — including expanding expedited removal and the wrongly named Fairness in Immigration Litigation Act.

But the bill does contain a lot of really bad provisions that undermine American values and the Constitution. Almost all judicial review of any DHS errors in reviewing a person's immigration status would be eliminated or greatly limited. Further, the Employment Eligibility Verification System (EEVS) would require every person in America to carry a hardened Social Security card containing biometric information (such as fingerprints, retina scan and DNA) about the cardholder — essentially a national ID, and present a Real ID-compliant driver's license to get any new job.

EEVS also creates a vast federal database to verify the work eligibility of all job applicants in America — including U.S. citizens. The system would contain extraordinary amounts of personal information on everyone who seeks or holds a job, all of it keyed to a person's Social Security number. If this bill passes, we will all have our eligibility to work in the U.S. approved by the Department of Homeland Security every time we apply for a job.

The New York Times:
(T)he compromise was stretched so taut to contain these conflicting impulses that basic American values were uprooted, and sensible principles ignored. Many advocates for immigrants have accepted the deal anyway, thinking it can be improved this week in Senate debate, or later in conference with the House of Representatives. We both share those hopes and think they are unrealistic. The deal should be improved. If it is not, it should be rejected as worse than a bad status quo.

The Patriot News of Harrisburg:
A bipartisan bloc in Congress and the Bush administration have reached agreement on a broad immigration policy that, like any piece of legislation resulting from hard political compromise, is not perfect.

But it does include what we view as three staples of any policy to address illegal immigration: securing this country's borders, cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers and providing a reasonable and fair path to citizenship...

Hopefully, this all-too-rare display of bipartisan give-and-take will hold through the debate on the legislation, with the overriding goal being to tweak and improve, not stall or block.

If Congress squanders this opportunity, it will probably be well after the 2008 presidential and congressional elections until immigration is again addressed.

The Washington Post:
For years there has been hand-wringing over the death of bipartisanship in Washington politics and over the rise of the politics of uncompromising ideology. In the Senate immigration bill, there is a glimpse of what bipartisanship looks like in the real world -- an ungainly, imperfect hybrid that goes some distance toward tightening border security, clearing the backlog of visa applications, and providing a future for 12 million immigrants already in this country, including many who have been here since childhood. The wiser course is to work for improvements, not to sound the death knell for legislation that holds the promise of a better future.

The Los Angeles Times:
After years of bruising debate over "amnesty" — the misleading term preferred by legalization opponents — it's remarkable that the Z visa gained bipartisan acceptance. There seems to be mounting appreciation for the fact that 12 million people living in legal shadows is corrosive to the rule of law.

Also encouraging is the agreement's point system for green cards, attempting to quantify the attributes most desirable among would-be immigrants. Factors such as education, work history and English ability would be scored to determine who gets priority for green cards, rather than just the usual family connection or employer endorsement. Although deemphasizing family unification goes against historic U.S. policy, the point plan would align policy more closely to another American ideal — meritocracy...

Other elements of the plan are more dubious. A proposed guest worker program could prove too rigid by being renewable only twice, with a one-year gap in between. Care would have to be taken to avoid creating a new population of illegal immigrants.

But the single most objectionable aspect of the plan is that it probably won't pass.

And, finally, The Daily Show:


Friday, May 18, 2007

Common sense on justice

On Monday, the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Senate Bill 232, which would expunge an ex-offender's record under certain circumstances, and on Senate Bill 1060 from last session, which would severely limit the power of employers to discriminate against ex-offenders. This is common sense legislation, as evidenced by the bi-partisan (albeit 75% Democrats) group of co-sponsors, including the primary sponsor, Senator Stewart Greenleaf, who is an R from Montgomery County.

It's heartwarming when this kind of enlightened legislation is in play in Harrisburg, even if there is a long road to hoe from committee to the governor's desk. Even after their prison sentences end, ex-offenders continue to pay for their crimes in job discrimination. It's not a leap to say that recidivism would drop if reentry was not fraught with so many high bars to reach.

Our own Larry Frankel will be testifying at Monday's hearing. You can read his testimony (PDF) at our website.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

High drama over warrantless surveillance

Wow, it sounds like the testimony of former Deputy AG James Comey was riveting. If you missed it, Comey testified that he, Ashcroft, FBI Director Mueller, and other DOJ officials nearly resigned over the NSA warrantless surveillance program in 2004 when DOJ was refusing to renew the program.

Comey described a race to the hospital where Ashcroft had just had surgery:
When the White House officials appeared minutes later, Mr. Gonzales began to explain to Mr. Ashcroft why they were there. Mr. Comey said Mr. Ashcroft rose weakly from his hospital bed, but in strong and unequivocal terms, refused to approve the eavesdropping program.

"I was angry," Mr. Comey told the committee. "I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me. I thought he had conducted himself in a way that demonstrated a strength I had never seen before, but still I thought it was improper."

Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card quickly departed, but Mr. Comey said he soon got an angry phone call from Mr. Card, demanding that he come to the White House. Mr. Comey said he replied: "After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness, and I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States."

The full story is in the New York Times.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Racism back in style

As if we didn't already know that from the immigration debate, check out this segment from Fox News on voter fraud.

A few months back, Keith Olbermann made a reference to "sleek racism." This isn't even sleek. It's overt.

Kudos to TalkingPointsMemo, where I picked it up.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Only a matter of time?

It's impossible to predict what our elected officials will do, but it does seem that Real ID is in real trouble. We're now up to seven states that have legislation or a resolution against Real ID with Oklahoma- Oklahoma???- poised to become the eighth.

And on Tuesday that bastion of wild-eyed liberalism- the Wall Street Journal- reiterated its position against Real ID, a position it first took two years ago:
In California today, where a nation-high 25 million licenses are issued, residents can renew by mail. Real ID requires that you appear in person. So Americans can be grateful that DMVs nationwide are known as models of hassle-free efficiency; be sure to book a free afternoon.

Americans are rational. And in a post-9/11 world, they are willing to trade some freedom and convenience for more security. But it's not at all clear that Real ID will make us safer. Deputizing motor vehicle office clerks, who would be entrusted with sensitive information and access to a national databank, also entails considerable privacy risk.

Fraud and security lapses at DMVs today are hardly uncommon. Just last month, a DMV official in North Carolina was arrested in connection with issuing fraudulent drivers licenses. And if the goal is to stop the next Mohammed Atta, it's worth noting that, even under Real ID, people would be permitted to fly with identification other than licenses.

Real ID was always more about harassing Mexican illegals than stopping Islamic terrorists...

For unexplained reasons, immigration restrictionists are convinced that preventing illegal aliens from obtaining drivers licenses will result in fewer illegal aliens, rather than merely more unlicensed and uninsured motorists.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Trolling, errrrrr, patrolling the ACLU blogs

This kind of writing sounds awfully familiar. From the Find Habeas blog:
Thoughtful Criticism from a Reader

David LaBrosse writes:

Unfortunately, while the suspension of Habeus Corpus is very disconcerting, we must first of all STOP!!! "ASSUMING" that the constitution applies to non-citizens, and foreign combatants. Our founding fathers had no intention of granting the same protections which citizens and legal residents are granted by the constitution to visitors, illegal aliens, and foreign combatants! Also, by the actual definition of the Convention of Geneva, ONLY the countries who signed the treaty at the time of it’s inception are those protected by it! AND, ONLY formal combatants of a signing country are protected. International criminals, insurgents, and terrorists were NEVER included in it's agreements and tenants!!! Terrorists need to be hunted down, tried, and executed like the predatory vermin they are! I'm sure that if this note ever appears on your site, it will be removed promptly, since you really don't care about a healthy debate of the issues, only your own subversive opinions.

Strange. I've read this kind of writing before, but I just can't quite put a finger on where.

The response by ACLU blogger and Georgetown Law student Gabe Rottman is well worth the read.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Capitol chatter

In a Senate State Government Committee meeting today, Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) said something that caught my attention. After another senator implied that Thomas Jefferson would favor legislative term limits, Hughes reminded the committee and the audience that "there were no Founding Mothers" and went on to talk about the fact that women didn't have the vote and that Africans were enslaved. Hughes' point was that the Founders weren't perfect.

This is something I think about from time to time. I usually use the words "Framers" or "Founders" so as not to reference the patriarchy of that day.

The imperfections of the Framers are apparent. On the one hand, they were brilliant by setting up the system of government that they created. On the other hand, they were clearly limited by the mores of the day, and the continuation of slavery after the nation's founding is the first major example of compromise at work within a democracy. I often wonder if the Framers were real progressives who were just held back by the society they lived in or if they embraced the patriarchal, racist values of the society at large.

The ultimate brilliance, though, was in making the Constitution broad enough and general enough that future generations could improve on what they started.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Why PA needs to take a long, hard look at the death penalty

I said earlier in the week that I wanted to comment on the introduction of legislation to create a study commission to examine the death penalty in Pennsylvania with a two year suspension of executions. But I don't have to write it out. You can hear all about it at the website of United for Progress, a radio show that airs in south central PA on Sundays. The discussion is about 15 minutes into the show. (MP3)

And The (Harrisburg) Patriot News made the argument clearly on Monday:
In Pennsylvania, there have been six Death Row exonerations since 1986, which by itself impugns the notion that justice is being served through Pennsylvania's application of the death penalty. Collectively, these six innocent individuals spent 57 years wrongfully imprisoned.

While we suspect that most individuals sitting on Death Row committed the crimes of which they were convicted, there nonetheless is a deeply troubling mass of evidence that poor and minority individuals are disproportionately prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to death in capital crimes.

Poor defendants almost never have the means to hire competent private defense counsel, or the resources to engage investigators, obtain expert witnesses or pay for tests. Even the cost of transcripts can be beyond reach....

Our legal system at its most basic level is supposed to be all about equal justice before the law. One cannot look at Pennsylvania's application of the death penalty, the ultimate punishment, and have any confidence that equal justice is being meted out. The time to stop this miscarriage of justice is now.

When Senator Jim Ferlo introduced his proposal to examine the death penalty, we introduced the Pennsylvania Moratorium Coalition. In response, Governor Rendell and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association pulled out the usual misinformation:
Mr. Rendell, who was Philadelphia district attorney in the 1970s and early '80s, maintained that the state already has "a de facto moratorium," meaning no death-row inmates have been executed for years, while they are still appealing their convictions. (Pittsburgh Post Gazette)

The gov continues to play on the public's lack of knowledge about the law. The appeals process is only looking for errors in law. It is not a thorough reexamination of all of the facts in the case.

Ferlo's bill would provide an opportunity to do a systemic review of how capital punishment operates in PA.
"I wouldn't call an official moratorium unless I saw overwhelming evidence that the death penalty was used in a racially biased fashion ... or that the death penalty is being used in cases where there are a high number of errors," Rendell said.

Rendell said he hadn't seen convincing evidence of either, and argued the advent of widespread use of DNA technology has significantly reduced the chance of wrongful convictions in capital cases going forward. (The Patriot News)

Is he joking? We have a death row that is 70% minorities, the highest percentage in the country. Whites are victims of homicide 50% of the time but are the victims in capital cases more than 80% of the time. And the Philadelphia DA's office was caught training its prosecutors on how to strike minorities from juries. All of these issues could be examined by Ferlo's study commission.

And another thing. DNA from the perpetrator is only available in 15% of homicide cases. The idea that DNA technology solves the problem is not based in fact.

And I'm just getting started. Take action. Call your senator and ask him or her to support Senator Ferlo's proposal. It doesn't have a bill number yet because it hasn't been formally introduced, but they know about it. Believe me, they know about it.

Andy in Harrisburg

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LAPD does it again

Once again, the Los Angeles Police Department has shown us the worst that government has to offer. If you haven't seen it yet, on Tuesday, the LAPD unleashed itself on a peaceful, pro-immigrant crowd, firing rubber bullets into a group of people that included children.

Look familiar?

I haven't watched any TV over the last few days, but if the media is giving this air time, perhaps this will be the galvanizing moment that pushes us in the direction of dignity for our immigrant friends. After all, 78% of Americans believe that undocumented immigrants deserve an opportunity to earn citizenship.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Blogging to go

I'm running out the door but want to get in a quick post. In case you missed it, the DOJ released a report showing racial disparities in who gets searched during traffic stops. Duh.

And I've got a whole lot to say about the death penalty, in light of this.

Oh, and one last thing. ABC News reported that the number of organized hate groups has risen 40% since 2000, thanks to the immigration debate. Thank you, Lou Barletta and Lou Dobbs, for your caustic rhetoric. "Increase the Hate" does not work well on a bumper sticker. (Video)

Andy in Harrisburg

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Family values win again

And extreme government policies in Luzerne County fall.

If you haven't looked at our website today, be sure to check this out. The Register of Wills in the county tried to run her office as her own fiefdom and denied a marriage license to an American woman and a Mexican man, despite the fact that the couple produced proper identification.

Omar Jadwat of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project:
Marriage is a fundamental right under the Constitution, not something that can be held hostage to an immigration policy agenda.

Andy in Harrisburg