Welcome to the Land of the Free: Now Shut Up

Supreme Court denies legal immigrants the right to speak freely


by Sly Spurling

In a real shock to the American Civil Liberties Union, who has worked on this case for the last 12 years, the US Supreme Court has ruled that the American Government can deport legal immigrants based on their political associations and activities, regardless of whether or not the activities were perfectly legal, and that those immigrants have no right to complain.

Their decision - in Reno v. American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee - has effectively denied immigrants in this country the same First Amendment rights that all American citizens enjoy. The case involved the government's effort to deport eight immigrants because of their political associations and activities. The Court ruled that the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act barred the federal courts from reviewing the immigrants' selective prosecution claims: and then, the Justices also decided that doing so raised no constitutional problems because, according to them, aliens have no First Amendment right to object to being singled out for deportation based on their political associations.

The big shock for the defendants was that the Supreme Court acted on the constitutional matter - the First Amendment - without intimating they were going to look into it during the arguments. In fact, they 'explicitly' declined to hear it at that time.

"The Court decided the First Amendment issue... without the benefit of arguments from any of the parties," ACLU legislative council Gregory T. Nojeim said, "We want an opportunity to make that argument, which is why we are filing (a) petition for rehearing with the Supreme Court."

The Justice Department has acknowledged that none of the eight immigrants engaged in any criminal or violent terrorist activities during their stay in America. They wished to deport them based on their political ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the literature they distributed and their fundraising for humanitarian aid.

Documents in the court record show that The Justice Department acted at the behest of the FBI, who urged the INS to deport the eight in order to hamper the political activities of the PFLP in the LA area. All this in spite of the fact that the FBI has admitted that it found no evidence of criminal conduct by the group. In fact, the FBI specifically urged the deportation of one of the eight because he is "intelligent, aggressive, and has great leadership ability."

But the chief beef with the group, it seems, is that it was accused of being in favor of 'world communism,' which was a deportable offense at the time of their arrest under the McCarran-Walter Act. Some readers may remember that the Act was also used to bar some musical groups from entering the country: the Pet Shop Boys were blacklisted as being "too dangerous" for American listeners, for example.

The ACLU has filed a petition to have this decision looked at again: "Our first goal is to convince the Court that enforcement of our immigration laws must be conducted in a non-discriminatory manner," Nojeim said, "If we fail to do so, we will call on Congress to adopt legislation to ensure that immigrants are not targeted for deportation based on their lawful political activities."

This just reeks of isolationist claptrap. I can, if I so choose, go out and panhandle or speak up for any group I want to. Why can't a legal immigrant have the same right? What IS the potential harm in something like that? Are we so afraid of alien ideas that we have to deport those who speak of them?

And then there's this little bit about the First Amendment not applying to Legal Immigrants. That is pure, unadulterated, horseshit. The First Amendment does not say who can or can't be covered under it, but instead prohibits Congress from passing any laws that would inhibit Freedom of the press or speech. If they're over here, working in our businesses, going to our schools or contributing to our society then the rules that apply to us should apply to them: likewise with the rights and responsibilities. If they do truly criminal acts then yes, deport them, but what was criminal about what they were doing?

The scary thing is that this is the sort of thing our leaders always yammer about when they point their fingers at other countries and cry "shame" at poor civil rights records. Our government always makes such a big noise about "democracy" and "freedom," and yet they can snatch it away from the least amongst us without so much as a batted eyelash. Who are we to preach human rights to China or Serbia or Iraq when we'll screw them here, too, for the same reasons (albeit with lesser punishments than those sometimes imposed in these countries)? And if there wasn't a piece of paper guaranteeing the rights for native-born citizenry, what sort of things would they do to us? Anyone remember McCarthy? It is the opinion of everyone at ROC that ALL citizens of the world have an inherent right to freedom of speech. It is very sad that our government thinks otherwise as evidenced by rulings such as this.

The ACLU is trying to get the Supreme Court to review this again. Everyone, no matter where they are, should check out what they're up to and see what they can do it help. Also, get in touch with your Representatives and Senators: make sure that, if the Supreme Court lets us down yet again, some kind of legislation to keep this from happening gets passed. Let them know we do NOT appreciate their 'efforts' to save us from, gasp, other ideas. If we can criminalize the legal actions of those who come here to "breathe free," then what have we, as a country, become?

The ACLU of Southern California is located at:

1616 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Tel: 213.977.9500
Fax: 213.250.3919
email: ACLUinfo@aclu-sc.org

To find your rep/senator, go to:

http://clerkweb.house.gov/mbrcmtee/mbrcmtee.htm

For the ACLU briefing:

http://www.aclu.org/news/1999/n022499b.html

For the case:

http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/97-1252.ZS.html

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