Tuesday, September 25, 2007

News: Lawsuit: Scholar Kept From US Over Views

The Associated Press wrote a widely distributed story about our lawsuit on behalf of Adam Habib, a South African scholar who, along with his family, has been denied the right to reenter the United States. We believe that's because he has been critical of the Iraq war and other US policies -- and that Americans have the right to invite him to speak and hear him if they want to.

The story quotes Sarah Wunsch, our Staff Attorney, who is one of the lawyers working on the case.

The Boston Herald, Boston Globe, and Washington Post carried the AP story, and the New York Times did its own coverage.

Blog: Romney says he'll protect country from ACLU

Everyone chafing under the Bill of Rights, take heart: the National Review quotes former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney saying he'll make sure the future of the country isn't defined by the ACLU.

Press Release: ACLU Sues Over Exclusion of South African Democracy Scholar

BOSTON -- The Departments of State and Homeland Security are illegally blocking South African scholar Adam Habib from entering the U.S. under circumstances that suggest he is being excluded because of his political views, according to a lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Massachusetts. The ACLU charges that censorship at the border prevents U.S. citizens and residents from hearing speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

"Immigration officials should not be in the business of blocking our borders to people with political views they dislike," said Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts. "Silencing critics and forbidding Americans the right to hear dissenting voices harms academic and political freedom in the United States. For example, the next meeting of the American Sociological Association will be held in Boston next August, and we want to make sure that Professor Habib is allowed to speak if he is invited again."

"Once again, the Bush administration is stifling debate by preventing U.S. audiences from engaging prominent scholars face-to-face," said Melissa Goodman, a staff attorney for the ACLU's National Security Project. "When the government excludes scholars from the U.S. -- particularly scholars who frequently traveled to this country without any problems in the past, but who happen to be vocal critics of U.S. policies -- it sends the cowardly message that our government is afraid of opposing voices. This kind of political litmus test is both unconstitutional and un-American."

The ACLU's lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on behalf of organizations that have invited Professor Habib to speak in the U.S. in the near future, including the American Sociological Association (ASA), the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights (BCPR). The lawsuit, which names Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff as defendants, seeks the immediate processing of Professor Habib's pending visa application and a declaration that his exclusion without explanation since October 2006 violates the First Amendment rights of U.S. organizations, citizens, and residents.

Habib is a renowned scholar, sought after analyst, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Advancement at the University of Johannesburg. He is also a Muslim who has been a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and certain U.S. terrorism-related policies. Until the government suddenly revoked his visa last October without explanation, he never experienced any trouble entering the U.S.; in fact, Habib lived in New York for years while earning a PhD in Political Science from the City University of New York.

The October 2006 revocation of Professor Habib's visa prevented him from attending a series of meetings with representative from institutions such as the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Bank, Columbia University, and the Gates Foundation. When he landed, Habib was detained for seven hours and interrogated about his associations and political views. Armed guards eventually escorted him to a plane and deported him back to South Africa. The State Department later revoked the visas of Professor Habib's wife and two small children, again, without explanation.

"I find it profoundly disturbing that the U.S. government continues to deny me the opportunity to participate in the kind of robust academic and political debate that is central to the American democratic system," said Habib. "Now more than ever, people from around the world recognize the consequences of American isolation within the global community. By letting in outsiders who represent ideological diversity, the U.S. can make good on its democratic ideals."

Last May, Habib applied for a new visa that would allow him to travel to the U.S. to attend speaking engagements, including the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in August 2007. However, on the eve of his scheduled departure to New York, the State Department informed Habib that his visa application would not be processed in time for the meeting. As a result of the State Department's unexplained visa denial, Habib was prevented from speaking to the ASA and its members. His visa application continues to languish.

Professor Habib's exclusion is part of a larger pattern. Over the past few years, numerous foreign scholars, human rights activists, and writers -- all vocal critics of U.S. policy -- have been barred from the U.S. without explanation or on unspecified national security grounds.

In 2006, the ACLU filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of U.S. academic groups and Professor Tariq Ramadan, a widely respected Swiss scholar of the Muslim world. When the government revoked his visa in 2004, Professor Ramadan was prevented from assuming a tenured teaching position at the University of Notre Dame. The Ramadan lawsuit challenges the legality of his exclusion and the constitutionality of the Patriot Act provision under which he was initially excluded. He remains excluded today.

Today, the ACLU also launched a new interactive web feature that tells the stories of the artists, scholars and politicians the U.S. government has kept out of the country since the inception of ideological exclusion in 1952. It is available at: http://www.aclu.org/passportflash

Today's complaint is available at: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/31921lgl20070925.html

More information about ideological exclusion is available at: http://www.aclu.org/exclusion

Attorneys in the case are Goodman, Jameel Jaffer, Nasrina Bargzie, and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU, and Wunsch and John Reinstein of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

News: Police to widen use of cameras

The Boston Globe quotes Chris Ott, our Communications Manager, in this article about the growing use of surveillance cameras by police. Ott asks whether simpler methods, like better lighting, have been considered, and whether we want to live in a 24-7 surveillance society.

News: "Open road tolling" could spell end to toll booths

The Worcester Telegram carried an Associated Press story about "open road tolling," which would replace traditional toll booths, where you hand over cash, with a system that scans for a transponder in your car. The system would then either deduct the amount of the toll from an account, or send a bill.

The story quotes Ann Lambert, our Legislative Counsel, who raises privacy concerns. In addition to making tolling electronic and automatic, the system could also be used to track where your car goes, and there are not clear guidelines in place for how this information would be stored and used.

News: DA to prosecute MIT jester, but conviction's a tough sell

The Boston Herald quotes Carol Rose, our Executive Director, in its story on the chances of convicting Star Simpson. Simpson was the MIT student arrested at Logan for wearing a "hoax device," which airport security treated as if it could be a bomb.

Friday, September 21, 2007

News: MBTA welcomes new chief

The Boston University Daily Free Press quotes Chris Ott, our communications manager, in a story that discusses the use of video surveillance cameras.

The ACLU doesn't oppose video surveillance in specific sensitive locations where it can be helpful to keep people safe or enforce the law, such as in "choke point" areas like entrances and exits to transit systems, schools or school buses, stadiums. They can also be useful for a limited time in a particular area as part of a specific investigation.

However, there are problems with video surveillance too. There are myths about the cameras' effectiveness, concerns about how the cameras and the data they store will be used, and important questions about how much privacy we want to give up.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

News: TSA taking closer look at travelers' mannerisms

A Washington Post story picked up by other papers around the country, like the Seattle Times, quotes John Reinstein, our Legal Director, about the use of "behavior detection" to spot terrorists at airports.

The article mentions that the ACLU is suing the Massachusetts Port Authority over a case in 2003 when an officer "trained in behavior detection" detained a passenger. What it doesn't mention is that this passenger was King Downing, the National Coordinator of the ACLU's Campaign Against Racial Profiling!

By the end of the year, the TSA plans to have 1,000 agents trained in this method and stationed at more than 40 airports.

News: Gardner sold on Tasers

The Worcester Telegram quotes Ron Madnick, director of our Worcester County chapter, in a story about plans to equip police in Gardner with Tasers by Nov. 1.

Madnick took issue with the safety of this supposedly "non-lethal" weapon: between 1999 and 2004, there were 71 deaths associated with Taser use.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Press Release: ACLU Constitution Day Tonight Features National Speakers, Release of Congressional Civil Liberties Scorecard

BOSTON - Today, the ACLU presents its Constitution Day program, "Standing Up To The PATRIOT Act, Rolling Back Real ID: How Can We Reclaim Our Civil Liberties?" The event will take place in the Rabb Lecture Hall of the Boston Public Library, Copley Square, from 6 to 8 p.m.

The event features three nationally known speakers:

* Barbara Bailey, Director of the Wellesley-Turner Memorial Library in Connecticut, who is one of only four people in the country who can talk about being served with a National Security Letter -- out of more than 200,000 who have been permanently gagged after getting a National Security Letter from the FBI;

* Mike German, a former Special Agent with the FBI, who infiltrated domestic right-wing terror groups and later blew the whistle on the FBI's counter-terrorism operations;

* Tim Sparapani, national ACLU Legislative Counsel, who focuses on protecting privacy and opposing abuses of government power.

In addition, the event will feature a preview clip from a not-yet-released Robert Greenwald Executive Productions film on Government Spying.

The ACLU is also releasing a Congressional Scorecard, a detailed look at how members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation have voted on 11 key "Abuse of Power" issues in the Senate and 10 in the House. The Scorecard includes a lifetime score from the ACLU on civil liberties issues, and highlights the bills that members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation have been leaders on, by sponsoring or co-sponsoring important legislation.

The Scorecard includes a lifetime score from the ACLU on civil liberties issues, and highlights the legislation that members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation have been leaders on, as sponsors or co-sponsors.

Constitution Day celebrates the rights established by the U.S. Constitution, adopted on September 17, 1787.

Monday, September 17, 2007

New York Times spotlights Anthony Romero at BU for Constitution Day

In 2004, Congress passed a law requiring any school or college receiving federal funds to teach about the Constitution on or around Sept. 17, the day "We the People" adopted the Constitution in 1787.

Today's New York Times has an article about how most students still don't know much about the Day -- but BU and the ACLU get special mention for bucking the trend. Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the national ACLU, will speak Monday night at Boston University's Constitution Day observance.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

News: Death of immigrant in custody probed

Today the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham quotes Anjali Waikar, our Equal Justice Works Fellow, in its story about the death on Sept. 11, 2007, of a Brazilian immigrant in police custody. Maxsuel Medeiros is the second immigrant living in Massachusetts to die in police custody since July, and his arrest raised new concerns about the role of state police enforcing immigration laws.

Our Human Rights Fellow, Laura RĂ³tolo, also gave an interview about the Medeiros death to WBZ radio.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Press Release: ACLU of Massachusetts calls for thorough investigation into death of second immigrant in custody

BOSTON - The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts today called for a thorough investigation into yesterday's death of Maxsuel Medeiros, a 25-year-old immigrant from Brazil, who died while in Massachusetts State Police custody. As reported in today's Boston Globe, Medeiros' death is the second time since July that a Brazilian immigrant living in Massachusetts has died while in custody.

"The tragic death of a second young, Brazilian immigrant in detention raises questions that cannot be ignored," said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "Last month's death of Edmar Alves Araujo after being arrested in Rhode Island raised concerns about the adequacy of medical care for detained individuals. That matter is currently under investigation, and we need to know the facts surrounding the death of Mr. Medeiros as well."

The death of Medeiros early Tuesday following his arrest on Friday, Aug. 31, raises other questions. "Why did police check the identification of Mr. Medeiros, the passenger in the car they stopped for a traffic violation? In addition to the facts surrounding Medieros' death, we need to know why he was in custody in the first place," said Rose.

The ACLU of Massachusetts has expressed growing concern in recent months over the increase in immigration raids and individual arrests, which are carried out in the name of finding undocumented immigrants, but often are conducted in violation of constitutional and legal rights.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

News: Study of traffic stops is derailed

The Boston Globe quotes Carol Rose, our Executive Director, in its story about the lack of follow-through on a study of racial profiling in Massachusetts. A review by the Patrick administration found that only 140 of 247 police departments under scrutiny followed guidelines for gathering data on the reason for every traffic stop and the people involved. The guidelines were devised to help measure and monitor problems with racial profiling in Massachusetts.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

News: Customs raids spur training on rights

Today the Boston Globe did an extensive story on 'know your rights' trainings done for years by the ACLU and other groups for non-citizens.

It's ironic that 'know your rights' trainings by the ACLU and other groups have drawn condemnation from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. What's really an outrage is their suggestion that constitutional rights should be suppressed.

An open and free society functions best when people are aware of their legal and constitutional rights. Our Constitution assumes that people are aware of their rights and may exercise them.

It’s true that non-citizens don’t have all the same rights as citizens. But the constitution guarantees that everyone inside our borders, not just US citizens, have basic rights, including the right to be free from unreasonable searches, the right not to self incriminate, the right not to let officers into their homes without a warrant, the right to due process, and the right to contact an attorney for assistance.

If law enforcement has absolute power to bypass these constitutional protections just because they happen to be looking for undocumented immigrants, then in the end, no US citizen is safe from a loud knock on the door in the middle of the night either.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

News: Congress returns, ready for confrontation

In a story about the return of Congress, today's Boston Globe mentions the ACLU's sheep ads criticizing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for caving in last month on the so-called "Protect America Act."

In 2006, Americans arguably elected a new Congress to stop presidential abuses of power, to at least put up a fight -- not to just give in and call it a "compromise."