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Department of Homeland Security's unchecked detention and deportation powers

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Today, when Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff testified before the House Homeland Security Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union called on the committee to exercise vigorous oversight of the many DHS programs that endanger U.S. citizens’ privacy and civil liberties without increasing security. DHS’s unchecked detention and deportation powers have resulted in abusive interrogations of families with children at checkpoints, creation of militarized zones within the U.S. and widespread fear in immigrant communities facing natural disasters. Collectively, these practices illustrate how DHS has mismanaged its authority and wasted resources.


“The Department of Homeland Security has far too many ill-conceived programs that fail to account for privacy, due process and other principles that assure fairness to the innocent,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “It is time for Congress to recognize the Bush Administration’s security apparatus is an emperor without any clothes.


“DHS’s collection of personal data on millions of U.S. citizens and its ever-expanding surveillance infrastructure should raise alarms for the committee. DHS provides the illusion of security without the purported benefits to our nation.


“The Akif Rahman experience is an example of DHS’s inept border screenings. This week, during an event to mark the one millionth name record on the terrorist watch list, Rahman, an American citizen, spoke about how he has repeatedly been detained at the U.S.-Canada border. Rahman has been interrogated extensively about the mosque that his family attends and his religious observances. Yet, after being shackled and submitting to humiliating searches, he is always ‘cleared’ to leave. When he finally filed a lawsuit, he learned that many U.S. citizens of Arab or South Asian descent suffer the same degrading fate. The committee should question Secretary Chertoff about the department’s targeting of American citizens.


“The committee also needs to investigate reports of racial profiling at the immigration checkpoints that involve Latino residents being disproportionately stopped. The presence of DHS and National Guard agents in the Rio Grande Valley as far as 150 miles into the U.S. has transformed many towns into militarized zones. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) have immigration checkpoints in the Texas towns of Sarita, Falfurrias and Laredo. This past May CBP made announcements in the media that it intended to continue screening for immigration status at these checkpoints during natural catastrophes and emergency situations. Fortunately, when Texas Governor Rick Perry pointed out that the checkpoint delays could cost lives, CBP retracted its statement but has yet to fully communicate this to the residents of the Rio Grande Valley.”

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