Congress must improve immigration laws

To foreign nations: Take back your tired, your poor and your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is having none of it.

The INS has been a worrisome organization since its inception. Little more could reasonably be expected of a group whose founding principles spawned from a borderline-racist xenophobia and the puzzling idea that a nation of immigrants needed less immigration to flourish or even, some popular paranoiacs suggest, survive. And since Sept. 11, INS actions have steadily progressed from worrisome to downright terrifying.

Perhaps the most public example – though certainly not the most egregious – might be the case of Deena Gilbey, a 39-year-old British woman. Gilby’s husband Michael was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Michael was an American citizen, and their marriage allowed Deena to remain in the United States and raise their two American-born children. But since his death, the INS has been trying to kick her out of the country.

Deportation: It’s not just for terrorists anymore.

After taking her case to the courts, Gilbey was granted a one-year reprieve, and unless something changes she will be deported on the first anniversary of her husband’s death. That someone would think to do this to her is disturbing. But that this is required under the current system is abominable.

And INS’ moral transgressions go far beyond Gilbey’s case. A current INS detainee and Grenada native is languishing in a St. Martinsville, La., prison after serving his full sentence at Rikers Island, a New York penitentiary, for a crime committed long ago. When he was released from Rikers, the INS picked him up almost immediately and has since kept him locked up without filing any charges. He became so tired of living in prison that he petitioned a federal judge and was granted voluntary deportation as long as he left by July 6, 2001. INS, however, still has not found the identification documents necessary for him to leave the country. Now, nine months after his deadline, this man with no charges leveled against him is begging to be deported just so he won’t have to spend another night in an American prison.

Stories like these are all too common and, what’s worse, legal. U.S. laws have made it clear that inalienable rights do not apply to aliens.

And the INS, under Attorney General John Ashcroft’s direction, has taken full advantage of that. Ashcroft has been instituting immigration restrictions unilaterally whenever and wherever he can.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., proposed a bill last year titled the Immigrant Fairness Restoration Act, which recognizes and seeks to remedy this atrocious state of affairs. It will, in accordance with last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, grant immigrants the rights that have been legislated away. Congress must pass this bill and repent for these transgressions.

Unlike the laws that shackle them, most of these people have demonstrated no danger to American society.