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Patriot Act Forum Writeup

Panelists :

Anu Peshawaria: Immigration Rights Activist,
L.A. Chung: Columnist SJ Mercury News
Minal Hasan: CAIR representative
Jeffrey Mittman: ACLU Northern California

Patriot Act Forum

By: Sadia Mohsin

On Sunday, April 30, 2006, from 3-5pm, the Milpitas Democratic Club hosted a PATRIOT Act Forum. The goal of the forum was to discuss the PATRIOT Act and propose Immigration Legislation to the United States Congress. Four distinguished speakers attended the event to enlighten the Milpitas Community about civil rights. Jeffrey Mittman from the ACLU (Northern California), Minal Hasan from CAIR (Muslim American Civil Rights Group), Anu Peshawaria from Immigration Rights Activist, and L. A. Chung, columnist from SJ Mercury News, were the panelists. L. A. Chung moderated the forum.

Jeffrey Mittman gave a detailed history of how the PATRIOT Act was passed in light of post 9/11. He explained that a Judiciary Committee composed of Senate and House Members worked together prior to 9/11 to create drafts of the Act ready. The tradgedy of 9/11 provided a good excuse to pass the Act. Parts of the Act expired Dec 2005. According to the Fourth Amendment, we have a right to be searched only with a warrant issued by a court under probable cause. Therefore, expiration to the Act was necessary. Yet Mittman explained, under code 505, anything related to “national security” could override any constitutional amendments we might have as citizens. In fact, under code 215, the FBI doesn’t need a search warrant to search anyone’s home as long as they mention the words “a threat to national security.” Mittman also mentioned that a majority of the House of Representatives and Senate, by 52/48 voted against and filibustered against the Act, but officials still passed the Act. Code 215 and 209 of the Act mention the right to wire tap anyone who they deem suspicious and these two codes are up for renewal. The term “Lone Wolf” is proof enough to get wiretap permission from the judge. Another term known as “gag-provision” allows public facilities to hide evidence that is handed over to the government. For example, if the FBI came to the library and wanted records of a person, the library can hand over information without getting the consent of the person.

The next panelist Minal Hasan, who’s well-informed about the PATRIOT Act and deportation rules, spoke about the “Special Immigration” that only Middle Eastern and South Asian Immigrants - including some citizens - must go through now. Among the surprising facts she shared was that 82,000 people had to go through this special immigration; of the mere 11 people charged with a crime, no one was convicted. She mentioned that if any immigrant is caught violating any law including a speeding tickets and over-due fines, their property can be seized and they can be deported. Many attendees questioned why immigrants were being deported. Hasan answered that because the government cannot find terrorists, they take out there frustration on immigrants and deport them because they aren’t citizens. Hasan noted that students in particular were being deported. She mentioned a student here on a student visa who had the responsibility to take a certain number of units, but dropped two classes that he did not need for his major; he was deported. Another student who received a grade of D in a class, causing his GPA to drop below a threshold, is currently being detained and awaits deportation any day now. Over 3,000 Pakistanis have moved to Canada out of fear of being deported for no apparent reason. Hasan also mentioned that the Mosque where she prays is also attended by an FBI agent for surveillance reasons. She said that her email was tagged. She finished by pointing out that these intrusions and risks are the main reason people are afraid to be politically active and lobby against what they oppose.

Anu Peshawaria has been in America for the last seven years and works as an immigration attorney. She claims that in America, we lack educational resources for immigrants about their civil rights. A majority of immigrants lack simple knowledge that could save them from getting in trouble with the government. For example, immigrants are required to carry an I-94 form (white form) with them all the time because without it, they are considered illegal. Immigrants are brought into this country because they posses skills and are important labor. Because there seems to be no place for immigrants to go to get their questions answered, they often turn to attorneys who charge close to $250 for answering simply questions. Even one violation can result in deportation and detainment. Anu mentioned that there are a few common ways to obtain a visa in this country, and the two most popular ways are through family and through employment - like software engineers. Interestingly, although immigrants are treated economically like citizens in that they pay income and social security taxes, they have no access to the benefits of this money since they are not citizens. She suggested that all this social security money should be given back to the hard working immigrants or be used to educate the public about growing concerns of the immigrants.

During the question and answer portion, some questioned why people often lump immigrants and illegal aliens together? Mittman who stated that immigrants are an easy target in our system answered this question: they can be deported and are not a voting block in this country. In reality, immigrants are not the only ones whose rights are being violated; anyone the FBI thinks is “suspicious” can be detained and harassed.

Another questioner asked why is the PATRIOT Act keeps getting passed? The reason the PATRIOT Act keeps getting passed is because it is written so that people have a difficult time understanding it and therefore cannot complain against it. Workshops need to be held to explain to citizens their rights.

What if someone was charged with a violation but hired an attorney who proved their innocence - can they get their money back from the government for attorney costs? Although the short answer is “no”, some people counter-sue the government. In fact, the ACLU has filed class action lawsuits to fight against the government and sue for damages.

Another person asked about their due process and what rights citizens are entitled to. The bill of rights is the citizens’ rights, but the government can violate even those if there is any suspicion of national security. Although out forefathers established checks and balances, under the PATRIOT Act anyone can claim there is a threat of national security and infringe on another’s rights.

Someone asked if they apply for a job, can their prospective employer see in a background check whether they were investigated by the FBI? The answer is no; these files are kept confidential. However, anyone has the right to check if the FBI ever taped their phones, searched their property or tagged their email by simply demanding their FBI file under the Freedom of Information Law Request. Soon, the PATRIOT Act, under HR 3199, will be amended to allow the following three things areas to be searched without warrant: consumer records, bank records, and electronic transactions. Although the Freedom of Information Law allows anyone to request for his or her records, one needs to know and have reason to inquire. Under the “Peek and Seek” rules, the FBI doesn’t have to notify the target that they have been searched. Over 88% of the PATRIOT Act has been used for things that have no relation to national security.

Everyone can do something. Tell friends and family to write to their Senators and Representatives. Tell them to vote against the PATRIOT Act and any new amendments. Sections S2453 and S2455 and National Security Act bills are future bills that will be passed that will allow FBI access to anyone’s e-mail and electronic information.

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