Bush Administration Presses for Authority to Detain Immigrants Indefinitely and Deport Themwithout Hearing

September 20, 2001


Since the brutal attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., thousands of people have expressed their grief andsympathy for the victims and their families with candles, flowers, pictures and notes of support around the city.

The American flag has also appeared, with people donning red, white, and blue ribbons and armbands, and placing flagson cars and buses, in subway stations, on walls, in every public place imaginable.

But as the nation rallies behind the spirit of the U.S. flag — the ideals of democracy, freedom, and equality —many are worried that those very ideals will be eroded in time of war.

Congress today will consider controversial new legislation that would give authorities the right to lock upforeigners considered to be terrorist suspects, and to have them deported without presenting any evidence.

The legislation is part of a broader so-called "anti-terrorism" package the Bush administration presented to Congressyesterday. The legislation also expands law enforcement’s electronic surveillance capabilities, and broadens orchanges criminal procedures in terrorism cases, involving — among other things — subpoenas, search warrants andseizure of assets.

Immigrants were already targeted. On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced new rules that would allow legalimmigrants to be detained indefinitely during a national emergency. Citing the new powers, the Justice Departmentsaid it would continue to hold 75 immigrants arrested in connection with the attacks on the World Trade Center andthe Pentagon.

The Supreme Court questioned the constitutionality of indefinite detention last summer. Then it ruled that thegovernment could not order open-ended detention of illegal, clearly deportable immigrants simply for lack of acountry willing to take them.

Human rights groups have long criticized indefinite-detention laws in other countries, noting that they are oftenused by repressive governments to lock up dissidents for months or years under the guise of "emergency" conditions.


  • Jeanne Butterfield, Executive Director, American Immigration Lawyers Association.
  • David Cole, professor of law at Georgetown University.