Public Comment

Commentary: Immigration Bill’s Provisions Hidden in Plain Sight

By Rashida Tlaib, New America Media
Friday August 11, 2006

DETROIT—It’s been said before that the debate in Congress over immigration has needlessly gone beyond fixing the core problems within our immigration system.  

There’s a need to decrease the waiting time for an immigrant visa. The number of visas must be increased to meet the demand. The discretion of immigration judges must be reviewed. There is need for an overhaul of the immigration appeal process. These are real issues. But many of our elected officials have chosen instead to focus on proposals that would only worsen the effects of these problems.  

They have approved an “English-only” measure. They want to burden our states with national ID requirements. They want to force our local police to do the federal government’s job of enforcing complicated immigration law and criminalizing those who provide humanitarian aid to the undocumented. All this has set a tone that anyone who is, or looks like, an immigrant can be treated with less dignity and respect.  

These proposals do nothing to improve the work of an important arm of the federal government; they only bring our country closer to becoming a police state that permits laws that encourage racial and ethnic profiling and undermine American values.  

Providing a path to citizenship is, of course, the heart of reforming immigration, but the debate over legalization programs and border security has inadvertently given cover to extremely dangerous provisions included in both the House and Senate immigration bills. Many of these provisions, dubbed the “Title II” section, directly attack basic civil and human rights.  

This includes Section 204, deceptively named “Terrorist Bars,” which have nothing to do with terrorism but instead increases the discretion of Department of Homeland Security to deny a legal permanent resident’s the right to become a U.S. citizen. The section goes so far as to allow the use of secret evidence in denying citizenship, preventing a person from ever knowing and challenging the evidence barring them from becoming an integral part of U.S. society. Even though this only applies to legal permanent residents, it opens the door to secret programs that cover up violations of individual rights protected under our Constitution.  

The insidious “terrorist bars” section adds terminology such as “terrorist activity and security related grounds” to be used in determining the moral character of a citizenship applicant. It’s not clearly defined and is ambiguous as to what kinds of acts would fit into this category. It opens the flood gates to dangerous outcomes when immigration officials are left to determine the application of an unclear standard.  

The proposed section is already worrying many advocates and attorneys representing several Arab and Muslim applicants who are currently facing citizenship delays of almost two years (applicants of other nationalities receive citizenship in less than six months). Many communities suspect that “terrorist bars” would target primarily Arab and Muslim applicants and result in thousands of citizenship requests to be unfairly denied.  

The inclusion of this new standard doesn’t make any sense when our current citizenship process already includes the necessary safeguards in adequately measuring good moral character by requiring a security background check, an interview and filling out a 14-page application with every question on behavior known to man.  

To include such a provision during the “war on terrorism” and post-9/11 climate is going to make things worse for immigrants who strive to live the American dream and provide all the opportunities to their children they could not offer in their native country.  

Capitol Hill must address real problems, not imaginary ones. Lack of a path to legalization is a real problem, and so are the complications in non-immigrant visas, the bureaucratic nightmare of applying for family members and the unchecked powers of our immigration officers and judges.