Immigrants guaranteed rights, too

Freedom New Mexico

Americans have lived under the same Constitution, and behind the same Declaration of Independence, for more than two centuries. It’s sad, then, to see that so many people don’t know — or at least don’t appreciate — the basic precepts those great documents assert.

Sadly, even members of our own government — those who make decisions affecting everyone who lives within our nation’s borders, regardless of nationality — either don’t know or choose to defy those fundamental precepts.

That is why U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., was motivated to file House Resolution 1215, the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act of 2009. The bill would assure that immigration detainees’ basic rights are respected, including access to legal information and medical care.

The very premise behind our Declaration of Independence is the simple phrase: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution provides that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

These rights are presumed to belong to all people, not just U.S. citizens. We went to war because the British government didn’t respect those inherent rights; our own government now denies those same rights to immigrants and others.

Roybal-Allard’s bill follows one of the last rulings issued by President Bush’s last attorney general, Michael Mukasey, that immigrants didn’t have the right to appeal deportation orders based on inadequate or bad legal representation. Mukasey said immigration laws are civil in nature, and legal rights extend only to defendants in criminal cases.

Immigrants who are arrested, thrown in jail and required to defend themselves in a court of immigration law would be hard-pressed to see the difference between their “civil” situation and that of people accused of violent crimes.

The Constitution’s protection against the loss of “life, liberty or property without due process of law” is clear and absolute; it makes no distinction between criminal and civil cases.

Recent crackdowns on undocumented U.S. residents has caused the population of civil detainees to skyrocket. More than 90 detained immigrants have died in custody since 2002, and countless others have reported inadequate medical care.

“The ACLU regularly receives complaints from immigration detainees whose cries for medical care go unanswered,” Joanne Lin, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, stated in a recent news release. “All too often, the ACLU learns of detainees who have died from both serious diseases such as cancer and mundane conditions such as bacterial infections when earlier intervention could have made a difference.”

Citizens of other countries are no less human than those fortunate enough to have been born in the United States. Like us, they are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. …”

We shouldn’t need to file legislation more than 230 years later to remind our own government that those rights belong to all people, and must be respected.

Unfortunately, the need for such legislation appears more evident than the rights they seek to reclaim for all American residents.