ACLU calls for probe of Chertoff over 'terrorist' watch list
Nick Juliano
Published: Thursday July 17, 2008

Print This  Email This

The American Civil Liberties Union wants Congress to investigate the Department of Homeland Security's creation of "militarized zones" within the US in its overuse of a terrorist watch list and other programs that endanger privacy and civil liberties.

“The Department of Homeland Security has far too many ill-conceived programs that fail to account for privacy, due process and other principles that assure fairness to the innocent,” Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office said in a news release. “It is time for Congress to recognize the Bush administration’s security apparatus is an emperor without any clothes."

Fredrickson said DHS agents are overzealous in their patrol of the "border," sending agents and border check-points up to 150 miles away from the border, in effect transforming "many towns into militarized zones."

Homeland security Secretary Michael Chertoff was testifying Thursday before the House Homeland Security Committee Thursday about DHS's border security procedures.

“DHS’s collection of personal data on millions of U.S. citizens and its ever-expanding surveillance infrastructure should raise alarms for the committee," Fredrickson said. "DHS provides the illusion of security without the purported benefits to our nation."

The department has previously come under scrutiny for seizing traveler's electronic data without warrants in the course of border searches. Chertoff defended the policy in a recent USA Today op-ed.

The ACLU previously has criticized the Transportation Security Administration, which was folded into DHS when it was created after 9/11, for creating a terrorist watch list that has now ballooned to more than 1 million names.

“The Akif Rahman experience is an example of DHS’s inept border screenings. This week, during an event to mark the one millionth name record on the terrorist watch list, Rahman, an American citizen, spoke about how he has repeatedly been detained at the U.S.-Canada border. Rahman has been interrogated extensively about the mosque that his family attends and his religious observances. Yet, after being shackled and submitting to humiliating searches, he is always ‘cleared’ to leave. When he finally filed a lawsuit, he learned that many U.S. citizens of Arab or South Asian descent suffer the same degrading fate. The committee should question Secretary Chertoff about the department’s targeting of American citizens.

“The committee also needs to investigate reports of racial profiling at the immigration checkpoints that involve Latino residents being disproportionately stopped," Fredrickson said.

Chertoff defended one border program, referred to as Operation Streamline, in a speech last month. According to the Dallas Morning News DHS credits the zero-tolerance border policy with reducing the flow of illegal immigrants.

"These illegal migrants come to realize that violating the law will not simply send them back to try over again, but will require them to actually serve some short period of time in a jail or prison setting – and will brand them as having been violators of the law," Chertoff said in a speech last month.

The ACLU says the cost of such programs is too high and denies too many citizens their rights.

"The presence of DHS and National Guard agents in the Rio Grande Valley as far as 150 miles into the U.S. has transformed many towns into militarized zones. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) have immigration checkpoints in the Texas towns of Sarita, Falfurrias and Laredo," Fredrickson said. "This past May CBP made announcements in the media that it intended to continue screening for immigration status at these checkpoints during natural catastrophes and emergency situations. Fortunately, when Texas Governor Rick Perry pointed out that the checkpoint delays could cost lives, CBP retracted its statement but has yet to fully communicate this to the residents of the Rio Grande Valley.”