Trust us. We’re the government.

SCRANTON- At a hearing today at the federal courthouse here, lawyers for Sameh Khouzam, an Egyptian national facing torture if he is deported to his home country, argued that Middle District Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie should stop the deportation and release Khouzam from York County Prison, where he has been detained since late May.

Amrit Singh of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project said that “the government’s position is extreme” and that the government “is asking you to ignore that the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found” that Khouzam has scars that are consistent with torture, that there is evidence of past violations of so-called “diplomatic assurances” by the Egyptian government, and that a State Department report notes that Egypt has been a regular torturer.

Khouzam escaped Egypt in 1998 after being tortured for his religious beliefs. In mid-flight, the United States revoked his visa after the Egyptians claimed that he was wanted on homicide charges. He was detained on arrival.

Six years later, in 2004, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals granted him a “deferral of removal” under the Convention Against Torture, a treaty to which the United States is a party. In 2006, he was released from prison and lived and worked in Lancaster County until his detention by ICE officials in May. The federal government claimed that it had diplomatic assurances from Egypt that Khouzam would not be tortured upon his return.

“The issue before this court is the United States’ obligations under the Convention Against Torture,” Singh said. “There is no foreign policy exception in the Convention Against Torture.”

Government attorney Douglas Ginsburg argued that Egypt is an ally and that a court is not in a position to intervene in foreign relations.

“Why would they work with us again if their dealings would be opened up to scrutiny,” Ginsburg asked.

Judge Vanaskie asked Singh about the murder charge against Khouzam, for which he was reportedly convicted in absentia, and Singh noted that the charges are highly dubious.

Vanaskie also stated to Ginsburg, “One of the concerns I have is that using diplomatic assurances after the deferral of removal makes the process seem like a charade.”

In response, Ginsburg said that a ruling against the government “harms diplomatic relations between countries.”

Despite relying on the Egyptian diplomatic assurances, Khouzam and his attorneys have not seen any documentation of these assurances, and in court, Singh questioned the lack of a monitoring mechanism by the U.S. government to ensure that the Egyptian government follows through on its commitment.

More information, including briefs and links to related information, can be found at

Andy in Harrisburg in Scranton

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No sleep ’til Scranton

Tomorrow at the federal courthouse in Scranton our crack attorneys will present oral arguments to stop the deportation of Sameh Khouzam, an Egyptian national who has been tortured in his home country, and will argue for his immediate release from York County Prison before Middle District Judge Thomas Vanaskie. I’ll be blogging from Scranton, which will no doubt bring back some fond memories of the Hazleton trial.

To learn more about this important case and to read the most recent briefs, visit the case page on our website. Also, Sameh’s supporters have a webpage with a variety of links at

Andy in Harrisburg

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Because we think you might care…

There have been a few noteworthy items in the papers the last few days.

  • Yesterday’s The Patriot News of Harrisburg featured a front page story on a local high school that has created an alternative program for teen mothers and other students who have personal struggles that keep them from attending the traditional school day. You may recall last spring we took on a case in which a teenage mother in the Central Dauphin School District was being disciplined for missing school to care for her child. Kudos to Susquehanna Township School District for finding an avenue for teen parents who both want to complete their education and care for their child.
  • In Sunday’s The Morning Call of Allentown, a murder victim’s son and daughter-in-law wrote a moving tribute to their loved one and an explanation for why they asked the Lehigh County DA to stop pursuing the death penalty for the perpetrator. The torturous process for victims’ family members is yet another reason why Pennsylvania should at least take the time to do a serious examination of the death penalty, with a two-year suspension of executions. If the legislature passed and the governor signed Senate Bill 850, the study commission created by the bill could include victims’ families as one of the areas of study. In a related note, the Pennsylvania Moratorium Coalition, of which ACLU-PA is a part, has officially launched its new website.
  • For years, the ACLU and our allies have been advocating for alternative programs to reduce incarceration rates and recidivism. The politicians have finally caught on. Governor Rendell has introduced a plan for easing our overcrowded jails, which is modeled after a program that New York implemented ten years ago.
  • And finally, immigration. *sigh* From the “I’ve officially heard it all” category, the author of a letter to the editor in today’s Patriot News claims that immigration law is discriminatory. Against white people. “Until 1965 Caucasians were 90 percent of the population. Now we’re 66 percent. In 1965 when immigration laws were changed radically, sponsors of the legislation said the U.S. ethnic mix wouldn’t change. However, Hispanics went from 1 percent to 14 percent and Asians from 1 percent to 8 percent. The fact is that current immigration law is designed to reduce the percentage of Caucasians by this immigration policy. So anyone supporting legal immigration is supporting a discriminatory law.” And the anti-immigrant crowd wonders why we think they’re a) nuts and b) racist.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Alberto Gonzales resigns

The rats are jumping off the sinking ship.

A longtime friend of Bush, who once considered him for appointment to the Supreme Court, Gonzales is the fourth high-ranking administration official to leave since November 2006. Donald H. Rumsfeld, an architect of the Iraq war, resigned as defense secretary one day after the November elections. Paul Wolfowitz agreed in May to step down as president of the World Bank after an ethics inquiry. And top Bush adviser Karl Rove earlier this month announced he was stepping down.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Chertoff on your passport: Don’t leave home without it!

It might be time to get your passport renewed. If Michael Chertoff has his way, you’re going to be needing it a lot more often.

Last week, Chertoff informed the National Conference of State Legislatures that residents of states who do not comply with the REAL ID Act by May of 2008 will need to show their passports for all “federal purposes.” That includes boarding any airplane, even for domestic travel, entering any federal building, and visiting any national park. That’s right: to fly from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, or attend federal court, or visit Valley Forge Park or the Smithsonian, you’ll need to show your passport – or your REAL ID.

This is my favorite part of the CNN article:

“The [ACLU] dubs the IDs “internal passports” and claims it wouldn’t be long before office buildings, gas stations, toll booths, subways and buses begin accessing the system.

But Chertoff told legislators last week that DHS has no intention of creating a federal database, and Walsh, of the Heritage Foundation, said the ACLU’s allegations are disingenuous.”

So essentially, they deny that REAL ID is an internal passport – but if you don’t have one, you will need to carry your passport.

REAL ID is a horrible piece of legislation. It was snuck through Congress piggybacked onto a bill to fund the Iraq occupation and Tsunami relief, ostensibly to combat terrorism; only it will do almost nothing to prevent terrorism. What it really does is allow the government to track every detail in the lives of American citizens. Taken with the new FISA revisions approved last week by the Democrat sheep in Congress, one wonders how long before the US Government is using spy satellites, Enemy of the State style, to track its citizens.

But wait, there’s no need to wonder: according to the New York Times, Chertoff and Homeland Security are working to implement that plan, too. Why am I not surprised that Michael Chertoff is a fan of Michael Bay movies?

Oh, and REAL ID is going to cost billions to implement, most of which is the responsibilities of the states.

It’s such a terrible program, one by one the states are rejecting it. Sixteen states so far have enacted legislation to reject REAL ID. One state, Alabama, has already attempted to enact REAL ID provisions, and found the program to be an intractable quagmire. Twenty-one more (including Pennsylvania) are in the process of passing similar legislation. Chertoff and the Federal Government remain undeterred.

To comfort us, Chertoff assures the public that (according to CNN) “DHS has no intention of creating a federal database.” What he doesn’t mention is that your REAL ID card will be linked to your Social Security number, which means there is already a federal database in existence. It will also be linked to your birth certificate, your driver’s license, That also means it’s a convenient way for a thief or a terrorist to steal your identity – it will all be contained in one handy wallet-sized card!

We are working to stop REAL ID in Pennsylvania, but the real task before us is to repeal it on a Federal level. Otherwise, in less than a year, when you want to board a plane, go to court, take a jog in Valley Forge, visit the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall, hike the Appalachian Trail, or visit Gettysburg battlefield or the Flight 93 memorial, you’re going to need to show your passport or you’ll be turned away.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jiminy Cricket at Daily Kos for providing the following list of places where, as of May 2008 (according to Michael Chertoff), you will need your passport (or REAL ID card) lest you should be turned away:

(Removed a few that seemed dubious as State functions – these are all Federal)

  • Going to the post office
  • Applying for federal grants and subsidized federal loans
  • Visiting the offices of your elected officials
  • Running for office
  • Going to the IRS building
  • Applying for food stamps
  • Receiving social security
  • You or your company applying for federal jobs
  • Medicare
  • Opening a bank account in any FDIC assured bank

Chris in Philly

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How much jail time should she do?

As pointed out in a column by Anna Quindlen in Newsweek and on America Blog, Planned Parenthood and the National Institute for Reproductive Health have launched a provocative new campaign to ask, “How much time should she serve?” If abortions become illegal, what should be the punishment for women who have an illegal abortion?

Quindlen writes:

Nearly 20 years ago, in a presidential debate, George Bush the elder was asked this very question, whether in making abortion illegal he would punish the woman who had one. “I haven’t sorted out the penalties,” he said lamely. Neither, it turns out, has anyone else. But there are only two logical choices: hold women accountable for a criminal act by sending them to prison, or refuse to criminalize the act in the first place. If you can’t countenance the first, you have to accept the second. You can’t have it both ways.

This question was put to a group of anti-abortion demonstrators in Libertyville, IL, which was captured on video and then, of course, uploaded to YouTube.

Andy in Harrisburg

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The USA PATRIOT Reauthorization Act: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

So how many more “little-noticed provisions” of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 (yes, that’s really the name) are waiting to rear their ugly heads? Earlier this year we found out about a provision that was snuck in that allowed the executive branch to replace US attorneys without Senate confirmation, as had been the law. Now it turns out that, according to an LA Times story today, there’s a provision that:

“…gives the attorney general the power to decide whether individual states are providing adequate counsel for defendants in death penalty cases. The authority has been held by federal judges.

Under the rules now being prepared, if a state requested it and Gonzales agreed, prosecutors could use ‘fast track’ procedures that could shave years off the time that a death row inmate has to appeal to the federal courts after conviction in a state court.”

The article goes on to say:

“The move to shorten the appeals process and effectively speed up executions comes at a time of growing national concern about the fairness of the death penalty, underscored by the use of DNA testing to establish the innocence of more than a dozen death row inmates in recent years.” Of course, many of those individuals freed on DNA evidence would be dead now if the appeals process had been sped up, as DNA tests simply weren’t available when they were initially sentenced.

A USA Today article on the same topic mentions that “Pennsylvania [is]among the states that have expressed interest in participating in this fast-track execution program.”

My question: how is Gonzales going to find the time to do this fast-tracking of executions with all the secret warrantless wiretapping he’s now busy authorizing?

Sara in Philly

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No hate in our town

Statewide action for unity in our communities

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot of Pennsylvanians scapegoating undocumented immigrants. Their words and actions are dividing our communities and making many people – immigrants and citizens alike – feel fearful and rejected. Hate breeds hate, and it’s time for those of us who recognize the valuable contributions of immigrants – our friends, neighbors, families, US! – to speak out.

On September 1, 2007, while supporters of Hazleton mayor Lou Barletta and his anti-immigrant ordinance rally in Harrisburg to breed more fear and distrust of immigrants, we will offer a voice for unity. A “No Hate in Our Town” press conference will be held in Harrisburg by a coalition of groups to speak out against hate and in support of all workers.

Join those in Pennsylvania who are working to end the divisiveness caused by these anti-immigration ordinances. There is no time like the present to begin working together to achieve equality of rights for all, and also to appreciate and respect others – not only those who are most like us – but also those who are most different from us.

But we need more than a show of unity in Harrisburg.

Leading up to and over Labor Day weekend, we’re asking communities and neighborhoods, families and friends across Pennsylvania to come together to say, loud and clear, “No Hate in Our Town.” Gathering at our BBQs and parties, our town halls and local parks we can make our voices heard.

Here’s what you can do anytime between now and Labor Day:

1) Print or make a sign that says: “No Hate in Our Town” and another sign that says the name of your town or community: “Anytown, PA”;

2) Take a picture with a group of friends, neighbors, and/or family holding the signs

3) Send your photo to: by Sep. 4. (If you can send the photo before Sep. 1, we’ll put it up on the website in time for our press conference in Harrisburg.)

We’ll put your photo up on a website for everyone to see. If possible, have people in the photo wear a white ribbon or white clothing as a sign of solidarity.

Thank you for showing your support. We look forward to joining you now and throughout the Labor Day weekend to say, “No Hate in Our Town!” And let’s continue to work together to make sure that Pennsylvania stays a welcoming place for all people.

Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission
Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition
Pennsylvania Network of Unity Coalitions
Pennsylvania Immigration & Citizenship Coalition
American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania

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This is not news: Immigrants are not criminals

The Chambersburg Public Opinion, which is one of the stranger monikers for a Pennsylvania newspaper (“moniker,” trolls, it means ….ah, forget it), featured three articles (at least) on immigration on Sunday. Chambersburg is one of the PA towns that considered an ordinance similar to Hazleton’s but decided to wait for the outcome of the legal challenge. Although the trolls here at SF and the demagogues whom they follow would claim differently, local law enforcement in Franklin County confirmed what most right-thinking people already know- immigrants do not commit crime at a higher rate than natural born citizens.

“It’s pretty much the same,” (Washington Township Police Chief Barry) Keller said. “They’re not committing crimes that are unique to the area.”

“We’ve had some serious crimes involving them,” said Waynesboro Police Chief Ray Shultz. “But I’m not seeing a large number of increases involving immigrants.”

In terms of crime levels recorded by state police, exact figures do not exist. But those committed by immigrants would be representative of the society as a whole, (PA State Police Trooper Ed) Asbury said, adding that whites and blacks commit crimes.

“We don’t see an abnormal increase in relation to the population percentage,” he said. “The amount of crime would actually be normal for the percentage or less than the average for the population.”

Not that the nativists would let the facts get in the way of a good story.

You can find the expert report on immigrants and crime that we presented at the Hazleton trial at our website (PDF). And here are the other two articles from the Sunday fishwrap:
Getting past prejudice
Churches strive to welcome all

Andy in Harrisburg

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Swimming in the mainstream

As anyone familiar with the ACLU knows, we are not afraid to take on an unpopular issue or position. But I’m not going to lie- it’s nice being liked, too. So in an article dissecting the breakdown of conservatism and the GOP in The Economist, two paragraphs caught my eye since they touched on three ACLU issues in quick succession:

The Republicans have alienated America’s fastest-growing electoral block—Hispanics—with their visceral opposition to immigration reform. Nearly 70% of Hispanics voted Democratic in House races in 2006, up from 55% in 2004. That trend is sure to have been solidified by the Republicans’ recent scuppering of the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, in a revolt sodden with xenophobia. Lyndon Johnson once noted that the Democrats’ support for civil rights had cost them the South for a generation; the Republican Party’s opposition to immigration reform may well have cost it the Hispanic vote for a generation.

Republicans have also whipped up a storm of opposition among middle-of-the-road voters on social issues. The religious right’s opposition to abortion has always been an electoral liability: only 30% of voters favour overturning Roe v Wade. But in the past few years social conservatives tested people’s patience still further over a federal marriage amendment and Terri Schiavo. Fully 72% of Republican voters opposed the Republicans’ attempt to use the might of the federal government to keep the severely brain-damaged woman alive. The voters got their revenge in the 2006 mid-term elections— “bloody Tuesday” in the words of Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group. Rick Santorum, once the religious right’s most prominent champion in the Senate, barely scraped 41% of the vote in Pennsylvania. Ken Blackwell, social conservatism’s most prominent black champion, went down to a humiliating defeat in the race for the Ohio governorship. Social conservatives lost ballot initiatives on everything from abortion to gay marriage. (my bolds)

Now, to us, it doesn’t matter who is standing up for the issues we care about, as long as someone is, so the partisan angle is unimportant here. What matters is this: The ACLU is not some radical band of wingnuts. Many of our positions, including some of our most prominent issues, are embraced by millions of Americans. Why? Because the people of this country believe in the Constitution, they believe in fairness, they believe in justice, and they believe the government should butt out of their lives.

Andy in Harrisburg

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