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Bill's critics fear longer detentions for migrants

Supporters of immigrant rights say provisions in the Senate legislation would also limit judicial review and expand jails.

June 01, 2007|Teresa Watanabe | Times Staff Writer

The bipartisan Senate immigration bill would drastically expand the ability to deport and detain certain immigrants in little-noticed provisions that could increase racial profiling, Los Angeles immigrant rights advocates said Thursday.

In coordinated news conferences in five cities nationwide, immigrant rights advocates said the bill would allow the indefinite detention of some immigrants, limit judicial review of legalization cases and expand detention facilities.

"These egregious provisions fly in the face of due process and constitutional law," said Stacy Tolchin, a Los Angeles immigration lawyer with the National Lawyers Guild.

The news conferences were the latest effort to raise concerns over legislation proposed last month by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). The bill has drawn mixed reviews from the right and left over provisions to offer immigrants a path to citizenship, beef up border security, expand a temporary-worker program and limit family visas in favor of those with advanced skills, education and fluent English.

A Kennedy aide said some of the criticism was misplaced, directed at provisions that had been eliminated in the last few weeks. One of these is a provision that would have allowed the deportation of potentially thousands of legal immigrants who may be "associated" with gang members.

Immigrant rights advocates criticized the provision Thursday as "McCarthyesque" for penalizing people for their associations, not individual wrongdoing. But the Kennedy aide said the provision had been eliminated, and the bill allowed only the deportation of those who knowingly participate in criminal gang activity.

Some Republicans said the bill's detention and deportation procedures did not go far enough in protecting public safety and national security. Indefinite detention of dangerous immigrants is necessary for public safety, and more detention facilities are urgently needed for an estimated 600,000 fugitive migrants flouting deportation orders, according to Brian Walsh, spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

"In Sen. Cornyn's view, [the provisions] are about keeping Americans safe, not about the rights of people who entered the country illegally in the first place," said Walsh, adding that the senator would not endorse the bill until further "loopholes" were closed.

The Los Angeles news conference was part of a week of community events and lobbying organized by the Washington-based Detention Watch Network, a coalition of religious, pro-immigrant and human rights groups working to improve detention and deportation procedures.

At the Los Angeles event, held at the downtown federal building, immigrant advocates held copies of an editorial cartoon depicting the Statue of Liberty's torch ensnared in barbed wire while they outlined their objections to the Senate bill.

One problem, they said, was a provision affirming the government's authority to detain indefinitely certain immigrants with final deportation orders. Some immigrants were held for years because their native countries -- including Vietnam, Laos and Cuba -- would not accept them back. A 2001 Supreme Court decision generally barred this practice but carved out exceptions, which the Senate bill would affirm.

Immigrant organizations said the provision amounted to a "life sentence" for those guilty of civil violations of immigration law.

But Walsh said there were at least a dozen cases of "dangerous criminals" who had been released from detention because the government could no longer hold them for more than six months.

The Kennedy aide said the bill would allow indefinite detention for certain exceptional cases, including violent criminals, the mentally ill, those with communicable diseases and other threats to public safety.

In addition, the bill would set up a review process for such cases, which was absent in last year's Senate compromise measure.

Immigrant advocates also criticized the bill's proposed 20,000 additional detention beds, saying there were more cost-effective ways to monitor detainees. According to Detention Watch Network, incarceration costs $95 a day, whereas such methods as electronic monitoring can cost $12.

Although the bill's legalization provisions are aimed at drawing illegal immigrants from the shadows, Tolchin said, the deportation and detention proposals could push them further into hiding.

"The Senate bill is a shortsighted attempt to trade legalization for harsh enforcement provisions, and it's not worth the sacrifice," Tolchin said.


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