“Keep Our Communities Safe Act” is Dangerous and Unconstitutional

H.R. 1932, the deceptively-titled “Keep Our Communities Safe Act”,passed out of the House Judiciary Committee two weeks ago despite stridentcriticism of its sweeping provisions. The Act is a threat to the fundamental tenetof due process, to the human rights of asylum seekers, and to fiscalresponsibility.

The bill, introduced by Lamar Smith (R-Texas), istouted as necessary to keep dangerous criminal immigrants off the streets. Inreality, it grants unlimited power to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)to detain noncitizens for an indefinite period of time, with no opportunity fora bond hearing. If passed, this legislation wouldsignificantly impact the most vulnerable groups seeking entrance to the US –those fleeing torture and persecution in their home countries.

For example, a Tibetan man was brutally tortured and imprisonedfor a year by the Chinese authorities for putting up pro-Tibetan independenceposters. He fled to the US and spent almost a year in a New Jersey detentionfacility before finally being granted asylum. If the Act passes, someone like him could endup in a US prison for the rest of his life – without ever having committed acrime in the US.

In recent years, the Supreme Court has issued opinions limitingthe government’s authority to detain noncitizens indefinitely, but H.R. 1932seeks to alter current regulations so that DHS would have complete discretionover whom it will detain and how long that detention should last. There are no significantprocedural protections (such as the right to a hearing before a judge or tohave legal counsel provided by the government) for someone facing indefinitedetention. The Act eviscerates due process even for those who pose no flightrisk or danger to communities. This is simply unconstitutional.

Not only does H.R. 1932 violate civil liberties and human rights fornoncitizens, but it is fiscally disastrous for the US. DHS estimates thatimmigration detention costs more than $2 billion per year – H.R.1932 would drive this number up, creating an even greater demand for detentionspace and a further strain on the prison system infrastructure.

The House must reject this dangerous and unconstitutional bill. Itrepresents an erosion of the fundamental civil liberties at the core of the USjudicial system and has potentially disastrous effects on vulnerable asylumseekers.

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