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Amendments that Matter: Civil Liberties

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If you think the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup of the Gang of 8 bill has been intense so far, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. As the SJC moves into Titles II and III of the bill—which cover everything from E-Verify to detention policy to family immigration to agricultural workers, not to mention the path to citizenship itself—we’re highlighting some of the major areas we expect to see addressed, and the amendments we’re particularly hopeful about or upset by within each one. That’s why we’ve started this “Amendments that Matter” blog series. Below is a cross-post from Diana Scholl with the American Civil Liberties Union, writing about immigrants, civil liberties, and access to the courts.

Another day, another amendment to the Senate immigration reform legislation from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that would harm immigrants’ civil liberties. Amendment 17, which will be up for consideration this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup of the immigration reform bill, would unwisely (and unconstitutionally) restrict the ability of immigrants to correct erroneous denials of legalization by barring the courthouse door to them.

What does this mean in practice? If immigration reform is passed, a variety of regulations will determine which of the 11 million aspiring citizens are eligible to be given a roadmap towards citizenship.

But, as one might imagine, as new provisions are implemented for the first time, mistakes about who qualifies to be on the road to citizenship will be inevitable. In Grassley’s amendment 17, the judicial branch won’t be allowed to correct these mistakes.

If the executive branch were to adopt a regulation, policy or practice that erroneously denies tens of thousands of people legalization, under Grassley’s amendment, there would be no way to correct it – even if the regulation, policy or practice is inconsistent with the clear intent of Congress in the immigration reform bill.

Giving an agency employee the sole responsibility to make such important decisions puts too much unchecked power in the hands of a single agency employee. A single error by a single agency employee could destroy the dream of citizenship for many aspiring Americans who contribute to the vitality of this country, including the DREAMers, young immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Such an error could result in long-term, often permanent, separation of spouses or separation of parents from their children.  Without judicial review, these errors will go uncorrected.

We’ve been down this road before. After President Reagan signed the 1986 immigration reform bill into law, judicial review proved indispensable in ensuring that the executive branch did not unlawfully deny tens of thousands of applications through unreasonable policies.

Sen. Grassley’s amendment doesn’t learn from this positive of the 1986 immigration reform law. Furthermore, it is unconstitutional. As it stands now, the immigration reform bill has strong judicial review provisions. We encourage senators to keep them in and reject Grassley 17.