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Dear Editor:
The following press release was submitted by Lawyers Committee For Human Rights.

The Justice Department has announced that it will take some important steps to better protect the civil liberties of immigrants who are swept up in future anti-terrorism investigations, but more changes need to be implemented to ensure that immigrants’ fundamental human rights are not violated, the Lawyers Committee warned today. "The changes the department has said that it is willing to implement ought to help address some of the abuses which took place in the sweeps after September 11, but they fall well short of doing what needs to be done to ensure that immigrants can not be held without charge indefinitely," said Elisa Massimino, Director of the Washington, D.C. office of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. A report released last week by the department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, found that of the 762 illegal immigrants arrested after Sept. 11 few had connections to terrorism, but that many were held for months in harsh conditions and often without access to lawyers. Some held in detention were subjected to physical and verbal abuse, the report also said. Reports suggest that the Justice Department will implement changes to ensure that immigrants are not abused while they are detained. The Department may also take steps to speed up the release process for immigrants who have been detained and then cleared of any connection to terrorism. But even if these changes are implemented, the Lawyers Committee cautioned that the Department has yet to address a key finding of the inspector general’s report: that the Department failed to promptly charge detained immigrants and inform them of the charges against them. After September 11, the Justice Department has became over-dependent on "custody procedure" regulations which allow the detention of immigrants – regardless of whether they have been designated as a "suspected terrorist" – without charge beyond 48 hours for a "reasonable period" in the event of "emergency" or other "extraordinary circumstances." Congress debated this issue in the context of its consideration of the Patriot Act, concluding that detainees formally certified as "suspected terrorists" must be charged or released within seven days of their detention. But so far the Justice Department has avoided the constraints of the Patriot Act. "If Attorney General Ashcroft is truly interested in respecting the rights of immigrants it detains, this over-reliance on emergency powers the department has granted itself has to be reigned in," said Massimino.

Heidi Altman
Lawyers Committee For Human Rights



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