WASHINGTON (April 25, 2005)—In a April 25 letter to House and Senate conferees on H.R. 1268, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2005, Bishop Gerald Barnes, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration and bishop of San Bernardino, California, opposed inclusion of the so-called "REAL ID Act" in the conference committee report. In requesting the conferees to exclude the House-passed "REAL ID Act," Bishop Barnes wrote that the legislation would "have extraordinarily harmful impacts on asylum seekers, immigrants, and the nation and should be rejected by the conferees."
"The REAL ID Act of 2005" was attached to the emergency supplemental appropriations bill by the House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate did not attach the legislation to the Senate version of the bill.
Bishop Barnes stated that the so-called "REAL ID Act of 2005" "would not make our nation safer, as proponents of the measure argue. " It would "eviscerate the protection of asylum; undermine our national security; promote unsound public policy; and eliminate the few procedural due process rights immigrants have when challenging deportation."
Bishop Barnes echoed the call of the U.S. Catholic Bishops for comprehensive reform of the nation's immigration system: "In fact, comprehensive immigration reform which expands legal avenues to entry and permanent residency would better serve national security by bringing immigrants 'out of the shadows' and ensuring that our nation continues to benefit from the contributions of immigrant laborers."
Attached is a copy of the letter.
April 25, 2005
As you consider the House and Senate versions of H.R. 1268, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2005, we ask you to oppose inclusion of Division B of the House-passed version of the measure, which is the text of H.R. 418, the so-called "REAL ID Act of 2005." At a minimum, legislation as controversial and far reaching as the so-called "REAL ID Act" should not be considered in the context of a supplemental appropriations bill, but rather through the regular order of the legislative process, so that committees of jurisdiction in both chambers can better understand the detrimental impacts of its provisions. Moreover, on its substance, the so-called "REAL ID Act of 2005" would have extraordinarily harmful impacts on asylum seekers, immigrants, and the nation and should be rejected by the conferees.
While this correspondence focuses solely on "REAL ID Act" portion of the House-passed version of the supplemental appropriations bill, I would like to note that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has strong views on other aspects of the issues in difference between the House and Senate on H.R. 1268. These include such important issues as funding for humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping initiatives. Accordingly, we will be sending you our comprehensive views on this legislation under separate cover.
The so-called "REAL ID Act of 2005" would both raise the standard for obtaining asylum and increase the evidentiary standards by which applicants must prove their claims. The legislation also would repeal recently enacted law that establishes minimum standards for the issuance of driver's licenses and replace that law with onerous new ones that could well make us less safe. And it would require that all existing laws be waived if their waiver would facilitate the completion of the construction of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. In addition, an amendment was adopted on the floor of the House of Representatives which would outsource to "bounty hunters" the important government function of enforcing our nation's immigration laws.
In opposing the "REAL ID Act" portion of the House-passed version of H.R. 1268, we strongly believe that its provisions would, effectively, eviscerate the protection of asylum, thus preventing victims of persecution from receiving safe haven in the United States; undermine our national security; promote unsound public policy; and eliminate the few procedural due process rights immigrants have when challenging deportation.
Making it More Difficult for Victims of Persecution to Obtain Asylum in the United States
The so-called "REAL ID Act of 2005" would substantially increase the burden on asylum applicants to prove they qualify for protection in the United States, requiring them to show that one of the five grounds of asylum protection—persecution on the basis of religion, nationality, race, social group, or political opinion—was a central reason behind their persecution. This significant departure from current law would effectively overturn case law affirming that a persecutor may have mixed motives when he acts to persecute someone. Indeed, this provision, seemingly, would require victims to know what is in the mind of their persecutors before they can prove their claims, an extremely difficult, if not impossible, standard to meet.
The so-called "REAL ID Act of 2005" also would restrict judicial review of denials of asylum claims that are based on an applicant's failure to provide corroborating evidence and would allow an applicant to be denied relief based only upon the applicant's demeanor or on the lack of consistency in an applicant's story as he or she related it over time—even if it is immaterial to the heart of the claim for asylum.
These provisions ignore the reality that cultural differences could sometimes result in an applicant's demeanor differing from that of the "typical American." They also ignore the fact that some victims of persecution are so traumatized that it may take them time before they are able to relate fully the horrors of the persecution they have faced; nor does this allow for simply inconsistencies irrelevant to the asylum claim (for example, the date of birth of the applicant's spouse) to be put in their proper perspective. And they do not adequately account for the possibility than an applicant may have fled his or her country under emergency circumstances, preventing him or her from obtaining corroborating evidence.
In addition, terrorists are already barred from obtaining asylum by Section 208(b)(2)(A)(v) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. In our view, the asylum provisions in the Isakson amendment would fundamentally weaken asylum protection in the United States without making us any safer. They should be rejected by Congress.
Denying Federal Recognition of Driver's Licenses Based on Immigration Status
The so-called "REAL ID Act of 2005" would prohibit federal agencies from accepting for any purpose a driver's license which does not meet new minimum document requirements and issuance standards, including a requirement that states verify an applicant's immigration status and deny driver's licenses to aliens who are not lawfully present in the United States.
The so-called "REAL ID Act of 2005" would impose Federal requirements on the states that the National Council of State Legislatures has said do not adequately recognize the states' role in balancing public safety, service and other issues. We agree with many of the public safety concerns that numerous state and local law enforcement officials have often cited in defense of permitting states to determine who should be eligible to obtain driver's licenses. These officials believe that denying driver's licenses to all persons who are not lawfully present in the United States would make our roads less safe because the number of unlicensed, untrained, and uninsured drivers would increase dramatically and deny police officers the tools they need in investigating crime or assisting distressed persons in their communities.
The legislation's driver's license provisions would not make us any safer. Indeed, one of the great ironies of the legislation is that all of the September 11 hijackers would have been able to get driver's licenses under it. Congress enacted a strong driver's license law less than two months ago. Repealing it and replacing it with the onerous provisions of the "REAL ID Act" would not make us any safer. Indeed, many argue that it would make us less safe. Congress should reject the driver's license provisions of the Isakson amendment.
Construction of Border Fences
The so-called "REAL ID Act of 2005" also would mandate that the Secretary of Homeland Security waive all laws to expedite the construction of barriers and fences on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Our concerns about this provision are numerous, including our concern that this would be a dangerously broad mandate that is almost without precedent. The requirement in the bill that the Secretary of Homeland Security waive all laws expeditious to the construction of barriers along the southern border would be mandatory, not discretionary. Disturbingly, the bill would require waiving all laws, including, for example, laws against murder, laws protecting civil rights, laws protecting the health and safety of workers, laws providing for a minimum or prevailing wage, environmental laws, and laws respecting sacred burial grounds.
The so-called "REAL ID Act of 2005" also includes bars to judicial review of any decision or action relating to Section 102 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996. In addition, no courts could order any compensatory, declaratory, injunctive, equitable, or other forms of relief arising from the border barrier construction activity. Given the broad mandate to waive all laws necessary to expeditious construction, we find these provisions extremely problematic.
Finally, the waiver authority reaches far beyond the 14 mile fence near San Diego. In reality, the waiver would apply to all "physical barriers and roads (including the removal of obstacles to detection of illegal entrants) in the vicinity of the United States border to deter illegal crossings in areas of high illegal entry into the United States."
Need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform
The Bishops strongly believe that changes in our immigration laws that would allow legal entry into our nation for purposes of employment and family reunification would alleviate the need for construction of barriers along our southern border. In fact, comprehensive immigration reform which expands legal avenues to entry and permanent residency would better serve national security and the national interest by bringing immigrants "out of the shadows" and ensuring that our nation continues to benefit from the contributions of immigrant laborers.
In conclusion, it is our view that the so-called "REAL ID Act of 2005" would not make our nation safer, as proponents of the measure argue. It would deny legitimate asylum seekers protection in our nation, a traditional haven of refuge for some of the world's oppressed; make our roads less safe; and deny law enforcement tools they need to protect us.
We ask for your opposition to the inclusion of these ill-conceived, far-reaching, and potentially harmful provisions in the conference report on H.R. 1268.
Most Reverend Gerald R. Barnes
Bishop of San Bernardino
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration