If They Come for Me in the Morning
In the rush to combat terrorism after the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the Bush Administration may unintentionally be weakening the very freedoms whose continued existence are essential to victory in the war against terror. This is the wrong way to defend freedom.
If the White House bill became law, the Attorney General could detain or deport suspected terrorists without presenting any evidence to a judge. There would be no hearing, no opportunity to contest the arrest and no meaningful standards for the INS to use when deciding if action was warranted. Even lawful permanent residents could be "certified" and conclusively presumed to be removable from the United States and all this if the Attorney General has a "reason to believe" may aid or commit acts of terrorism. The administrative removal order is not judicially reviewable except by a direct appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Judicial review of the detention of suspected terrorists is available only in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and only after issuance of a final removal order.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, singled out the immigration provisions of the anti-terrorism proposal as particularly troublesome, as did the American Civil Liberties Union and such conservative stalwarts as Grover Nordquist, not normally given to agreeing with either Democrats or the ACLU. Senator Leahy noted that Congress took almost two months after the Oklahoma City bombing to pass antiterrorism legislation in 1995. "We do not," Senator Leahy told the New York Times, "want the terrorists to win by having basic protections taken from us." Congressman Bob Barr, an arch-conservative Republican from Georgia, expressed serious reservations over the Administration's suggestion to expand the authority of law enforcement agents to police the Internet and other types of electronic communication. Rep. Barr questioned whether there was not more time for calm deliberation: "If we are faced with a true emergency, the government has plenty of authority to do what needs to be done," he observed.
If left-wing libertarians, partisan Democrats, National Rifle Association and conservative ideologues are worried, maybe we should be, too. Big business and other advocates of employment-based immigration should be no less concerned. Do not make the mistake of 1996 by thinking that only asylum seekers and poor aliens in trouble will be hurt. Corporate America will feel the bite just as hard, if only a little later. Five years ago, in the successful drive to split the bill, Wall Street, Main Street, and Silicon Valley did not fight to protect due process, preserve fundamental fairness, or prevent court stripping since they mistakenly thought that the lash would not fall on them. Only later, when their labor certifications, their national interest waivers, their work visa applications became the target of this same repression did they realize too late that they were wrong.
The issue is not the need to use law as a weapon to combat terror. We are all Americans and our country has been attacked. The issue is what is the proper way to defend freedom. What the Administration wants is not it. There are some liberties that must never be compromised no matter how great the peril or provocation. Precisely because September 11th has so shaken all of us, we must step back for a moment and remember what we are fighting to keep. When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change. Now is such a time. For those who dismiss such sentiments as threadbare sentimalism unworthy of the moment, remember this: If they come for me in morning, my friend, they will most surely come for you at night.
About The Author
Gary Endelman practices immigration law at BP Amoco Corporation. The opinions expressed in this column are purely personal and do not represent the views or beliefs of BP Amoco Corporation in any way.