It’s time to ask Ashcroft questions about civil rights: Even 9/11 panel is criticizing some legislation



San Jose Mercury News
October 13, 2004

By Sanjeev Bery

Despite Republican and Democrat concerns about the USA Patriot Act, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is supporting efforts to expand this controversial law. At a time when Congress should slow down and take a look at the fine print, Ashcroft continues to recklessly charge ahead.

Today at noon, a select group of Silicon Valley professionals will have the chance to ask Ashcroft directly about these new proposals. Ashcroft will be speaking at the Software & Information Industry Association at San Jose’s Fairmont Hotel. If he uses his podium to laud the Patriot Act, he should be asked how these new proposals would affect our freedom.

Specifically, Congress is rushing to pass legislation that it claims will implement the 9/11 commission’s recommendations. But as always, election year fog obscures reality. Some of the legislation that supposedly will make us safer is even being criticized by a majority of the bipartisan 9/11 commission.

One such bill is HR 10, which has already been passed by the House of Representatives. This bill contains provisions that go well beyond the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. Consider the following provisions:

• Law enforcement would be able to get secret court approval to spy on individual non-citizens. Currently, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act gives the government expanded access to these powers — but only when targeting representatives of “foreign powers” or international terrorist groups.

• Immigrants could be denied basic judicial review over unfair, arbitrary or otherwise abusive deportations.

• Asylum seekers would have to “corroborate” their claim of persecution. Not surprisingly, asylum-seekers have difficulty obtaining corroborating documents from the very governments that persecute them. Imagine a hypothetical Christian refugee fleeing Sudan’s genocide, for example.

These provisions are just a few examples of how HR 10 bows to the demands of those who seek to expand anti-immigrant laws and the already-controversial Patriot Act. They are taking advantage of this bill to advance their own agenda.

The bad news is that the House has already passed these provisions. The good news is that the Senate’s version of the bill does not include them.

But in an election year, rhetoric sometimes trumps reality. That is why it is important to remind our government officials that now is the time to take a closer look at the original Patriot Act and anti-immigrant laws — before they decide to add more.

Today, a number of Silicon Valley residents may have the opportunity to put these concerns directly to the attorney general. It is high time that the U.S. Department of Justice listens.

SANJEEV BERY is field organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. He wrote this column for the Mercury News.