Reform Jewish Movement Concerned About the Department of Justice Treatment of Immigrant Detainees
Pelavin and Heller: We are embroiled in a struggle to preserve our American freedoms against the attack of terrorists who seek to destroy our way of life, and yet the Department of Justice was willing to relinquish that very liberty as part of the struggle.
Contact:Alexis Rice or Becca Nagorsky 202-387-2800
WASHINGTON, June 4, 2003 - In response to yesterday's release of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General's report on the treatment of immigrant detainees, Robert Heller, Chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, and Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, released the following statement:
Yesterday, the Justice Department's internal watchdog, the office of the Inspector General (IG), released a highly critical report of DOJ's mass roundup of undocumented immigrants in the months after the September 11th attacks. The report confirmed our worst fears about the tactics that were used in terrorism investigations. We are embroiled in a struggle to preserve our American freedoms against the attack of terrorists who seek to destroy our way of life, and yet the Department of Justice was willing to relinquish that very liberty as part of the struggle. We support America's war on terrorism and acknowledge the need to recalibrate the balance between civil liberties and national security, but we are deeply concerned that the Justice Department did not follow a course that paid due attention to the fundamental protections enshrined in the Constitution.
The IG's report describes serious breaches of the Constitutional liberties guaranteed to citizens and non-citizens alike. According to the report, many immigrants with no connections to terrorism were held for months without charges before being cleared or deported for immigration violations. Detainees were often denied access to counsel and in some cases, were not allowed to speak with their families. The report also describes the extremely aggressive tactics employed against immigrants who were technically being held only on minor immigration violations rather than evidence of criminal activity. The Justice Department turned the war on terrorism into a war on immigrants, exploiting the immigration system to degrade the due process rights that are a pillar of American democracy.
Deuteronomy 16:20 enjoins us "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof - Justice, justice shall you pursue." Biblical commentators have suggested that the word "justice" is repeated in this powerful passage to teach us that we must act justly in the pursuit of justice; that we must insist on both just ends and just means. Like all Americans, we support the vital and urgent efforts of law enforcement to bring the perpetrators of the horrible crimes of September 11 to justice. But we must be vigilant in ensuring that the investigations into the terrorist attacks do not undermine the very liberties that make this country worth celebrating and protecting.
We express disappointment that, according to the Inspector General's Report, the Department of Justice was not just in the means of its investigation. We are somewhat encouraged by news that despite disagreements with some of the report's conclusions, the Justice Department has adopted 21 of the recommendations made by the Inspector General and hope that this signifies a renewed commitment by DOJ to apply the highest standards of Constitutional liberties to the war on terrorism.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .