Archive for March 2nd, 2012

Repealing the First Amendment: Congress’s fight against freedom of speech

Friday, March 2, 2012 at 6:42 pm by

The first amendment.........Freedom of SpeechOnce again Congress has proved its extraordinary prowess at eroding the Constitution by passing laws that cut down on individuals’ basic rights. What exactly did they do this time?

Elimination of due process?

No, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) pretty much took care of that.

Warrantless surveillance?

So ten years ago.

Destruction of the rights to protest and free assembly?

Bingo!

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 347, or the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act, which protects government officials from that pesky thing called dissent.

The unconstitutional, and dangerous, aspects of H.R. 347 are being masked behind a part of the act clarifying that it is illegal to trespass on the White House grounds. Yet the language of the bill goes further: H.R. 347 makes it illegal for any individual to “impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions” if that action is against any person who is under Secret Service protection or any event that is classified as a National Special Security Event (NSSE).

Within that legalese comes a nice new law: anyone who disrupts the government from conducting business can be arrested and imprisoned for up to ten years.

Yes, we’re still talking about America.

Potentially, with this law, if a group of Americans organized a demonstration that sought to disrupt a politician’s “official function” and that politician was Mitt Romney, that demonstration could be illegal as Romney is protected by Secret Service.

President Obama, Rick Santorum, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, foreign ambassadors and dictators (who normally receive Secret Service protection in the US), and many other notable figures are now safe from the greatest threat against them: protest.

“Some government officials may need extraordinary protection to ensure their safety,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). “But criminalizing legitimate First Amendment activity — even if that activity is annoying to those government officials — violates our rights.” Amash was one of the three representatives who voted against the bill; the only other two were Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Paul Broun (R-GA).

The law extends beyond insulating individuals from protest to blocking protests of large, important, and sometimes politically controversial events. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can classify an event as an NSSE, if “by virtue of its profile and/or status represents an attractive target for terrorist attack.” The same rules of limited protest apply at and in the vicinity of NSSEs.

The upcoming G8 and NATO summits this spring in Chicago are considered NSSEs. Other past NSSEs include the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, International Monetary Fund (IMF) gatherings, and events such as the Superbowl and Olympics.

Yet as frightening as H.R. 347 sounds, it’s important that we be clear: it is merely an incremental addition to laws already on the books. Freedom of speech has been under attack for a long time in America, and this is only the latest battleground.

As the passage of the NDAA in December showed Americans earlier, our divided Congress may be unable to make headway on most issues, but it can at least agree that the one thing that needs to be stopped in America is dissent.

News Digest 3/2/12

Friday, March 2, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

California introduces new TRUST Act, continues fight against S-COMM

Friday, March 2, 2012 at 11:21 am by

Secure Communities Law Protest-Boston, Mass. Feb. 12, 2011Californians are continuing their battle to limit their state’s participation in the misleadingly named Secure Communities (S-COMM) federal immigration enforcement program. A new version of the TRUST Act, a bill passed last year that created new agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), was recently introduced.

The TRUST Act passed in the California Assembly and became law. However, soon afterward, ICE declared the program mandatory and shredded the new agreements with California as well as 39 other US states that wanted to limit their participation.

S-COMM is a harmful program that shifts immigration enforcement onto local municipalities and undermines community safety and trust. Local police run individuals’ fingerprints through the ICE database to search for a match with a suspected undocumented immigrant. If a match is found, ICE issues a detainer, requesting that the local municipality detain the person until ICE picks them up and initiates immigration hearings.

The newer version of the TRUST Act, brought forth by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, targets the issuance of detainers, as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has stated while participation in S-COMM is mandatory, compliance with detainers is optional.

The detainer issue is extremely troublesome, as a recent report by University of California Irvine showed that 7 out of 10 of the immigrants being detained had no convictions or were stopped by police because of very minor offenses. The purported goal of S-COMM is to only target the most dangerous criminals, but in reality it is more often used against innocent and vulnerable members of our society, including victims of domestic abuse.

“These are cruel requests to trap in local jails, at local expense, domestic violence survivors, street vendors, even US citizens by mistake, just so ICE can sweep these community members into its out of control deportation dragnet,” said Assemblymember Ammiano at a Los Angeles rally.

S-COMM has also been shown to overwhelmingly target Latino populations and encourage racial profiling; Latinos make up 77 percent of undocumented immigrants, but 93 percent of those arrested through S-COMM.

Although the reforms being sought in California are beneficial, S-COMM is rotten at its core and needs to be removed completely from US policy. Not only will S-COMM continue to perpetuate unjust immigration policy, but it will also further the Orwellian and troublesome new goal the FBI has tied into the program as one of its underlying principles.

Ominously named the Next Generation Identification (NGI)  initiative, the FBI is using S-COMM as the first step in its plan to expand biometric data collection of all Americans, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, without their knowledge. NGI will use iris scans, palm prints, and facial recognition as well as fingerprints to create a national conglomeration of personal information that can be searched by any government agency.