New York City
When it comes to defending the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the nonpartisan ACLU is just as happy to work with the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild as with Bob Barr and the American Conservative Union. But the ACLU’s “strange bedfellows” alliance with conservatives against renewal of controversial Patriot Act provisions has not, as David Cole suggests, submerged our broader reform agenda [“The Missing Patriot Debate,” May 30]. In fact, our association with conservative groups has triggered a groundswell of debate across the political spectrum on permanent Patriot Act provisions and other government policies that roll back rights.
Cole quite rightly champions the importance of these issues, and we applaud his legal work on behalf of the Humanitarian Law Project, a group that has been prevented from providing human rights training and advice to groups designated as “terrorist” under the Patriot Act. That is why the ACLU filed a brief in support of his case on May 16, and testified in Congress on the matter one week earlier.
Cole also rightly deplores the government’s use of Patriot Act immigration provisions to revoke the visas of Tariq Ramadan and Dora Maria Tellez. We agree–and recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records of the government’s practice of excluding scholars and other prominent people from the United States because of their political views.
While our legislative staff has been busy lobbying against reauthorization of Patriot Act Section 215 (“library records”) and Section 218 (“secret searches”) and other provisions, our lawyers have been just as busy in the courts. Our challenge to National Security Letters (Section 505) resulted in the invalidation of one of the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act. Cole might also remember the ACLU litigation challenging the secret deportation hearings of hundreds if not thousands of immigrants. Sadly, the Supreme Court chose not to review those ACLU cases, just as the Court also refused to hear our challenge of the increased use of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act powers in the government’s war on terror.
As far as immigrant advocacy is concerned, we didn’t earn any brownie points with many conservatives when we sent observers to Arizona to monitor the Minuteman Project’s border watch program, or when we advocated strenuously against the anti-immigrant provisions of the REAL ID bill, or when we opposed the fingerprinting and photographing of young Muslims. We’ve also actively opposed the incommunicado detention of so-called “enemy combatants,” “material witness” detentions, ethnic profiling of Arabs and Muslims, computer data mining and FBI infiltration of public meetings.
The ACLU was deeply involved in legal and public education work on behalf of immigrants detained and deported after 9/11; we played a large role in curbing data mining and surveillance programs like MATRIX, Total Information Awareness and TIPS; we mobilized to provide legal advice to the thousands of immigrants rounded up under the “special registration” program; and we have distributed tens of thousands of our “Know Your Rights” materials for immigrants in seven languages, including Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, Punjabi and Somali.