News Analysis

The Bush administration and the Republican leadership in Congress are stoking the fires of anti-immigrant agitation in the weeks before the election. In Congress, the Republican leadership is using the perceived urgency of acting on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to push through legislation aimed at civil liberties, especially of immigrants.

A series of amendments have been tacked on to the House version of a bill, HR 10, that would turn back the struggle for immigrant rights by forbidding any state from allowing undocumented workers to have driver’s licenses, and sharply restricting the use of home country consular documents for identification. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger just vetoed legislation on driver’s licenses.

These items, part of an anti-immigrant campaign led nationally by Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), collide directly with immigrant rights fights going on all over the country.

In addition, the House legislation would implement parts of the long-awaited “Patriot Act II” by making it possible for the administration to deport non-citizens for their political associations, with almost no judicial review whatsoever. Never mind that, in case after case, the government’s “evidence” against people it has rounded up turns out to be bogus or nonexistent.

In the Senate version, S 2845, there is an attempt to add wording from the CLEAR Act via the Sessions/Miller/Cornyn Amendment. Among other things, the CLEAR Act would authorize local, county and state police to investigate people they think might be undocumented immigrants. Police departments would be pressured to do this by the threat of losing federal funds, and would be protected by law from resulting civil rights lawsuits. In particular, this could be used to intimidate migrant workers trying to organize a union.

A further amendment to the Senate bill, added by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), would undermine due process rights of everyone by, among other things, allowing the government to conceal evidence from defense attorneys in certain cases.

The National Immigration Forum and other immigrant rights organizations have denounced these amendments and called for public pressure to defeat them. Significantly, the 9/11 Commission itself has denounced the anti-immigrant amendments.

Meanwhile, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee has warned that the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI are increasing moves against aliens perceived to be “out of status,” as well as increasing “voluntary interviews” with immigrants from certain countries.

The election is less than a month away and the Republican Party is willing to use any divisive wedge issue to frighten the public into voting against its own interests. Such a party needs to be removed from power.

Emile Schepers is a longtime civil and constitutional rights activist. He can be reached at