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Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Representing the 43rd District of California

USA PATRIOT ACT 5-WEEK EXTENSION

August 6, 2009
Floor Statement
Rep. Maxine Waters [D-CA]: Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition not only to the lack of opportunity that a five-week sunset will provide but to the underlying legislation that it extends, the USA PATRIOT Act passed during the 107th Congress, Public Law 107-56. Similarly, I felt that the prior-enacted five-week extension, Public Law 109-160, that expires this Friday, February 3, 2006, was inadequate. For the sake of the American people and pursuant to the words of the President of the United States just last night in his State of the Union Address, I hope that the draconian provisions that were contained in the House-passed measure have been removed or drastically improved. Alas, even the process of negotiating the betterment of this very important legislation was kept a secret until brought to the Floor.

I voted in favor of a motion to recommit this Conference Report with instructions, which would have replaced the text of the conference report with the text of the original bill passed by the Senate. The original Senate bill included many more civil liberties protections than does this conference report. That Senate measure would have included a process of judicial review for recipients of a National Security Letter as well as a standard requiring the Government to show a connection to a suspected terrorist or organization when requesting business or library records. The sunsets to the Conference Report that we consider today still require the Government to demonstrate ``relevance'' in an investigation.

The underlying conference report seeks to make 14 of 16 controversial PATRIOT Act provisions permanent. In making these provisions permanent, Congress will relinquish its responsibility to review their use, granting more permanent power to the executive branch. Congressional oversight has been maintained only through the two provisions scheduled to sunset in 4 years, as well as through the inclusion of a ``lone wolf'' provision, also scheduled to sunset in 4 years. Congress has a responsibility to check the power of the executive branch, not cede that authority, potentially threatening the civil liberties of our citizens. The underlying conference report unfortunately still fails to safeguard individual privacy rights, and allows the Government, with little burden of proof, to scrutinize nearly every aspect of a person's life.

The President stated in his ``State of the Union'' address last night that ``Our country must ..... remain on the offensive against terrorism here at home.'' However, in doing so, we cannot allow terrorism to erode our national security or our civil liberties.

I would like to address the following words stated by the President, again in his address:

..... based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute--I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al-Qaida operatives and affiliates to and from America. Previous presidents have used the same constitutional authority. I have--and Federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate Members of Congress have been kept informed. This terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America.

I authored a letter to the President that is currently being circulated and has already been signed by 50 of my colleagues that categorically negates these assertions based on well-settled caselaw, Federal statutes that remain in the books, and the words of the U.S. Constitution.

At no point during the floor debate of the Authorization to Use Military Force, AUMF, Resolution was there any discussion that the authorization to use military force would extend to the use of warrantless searches and vest the President with the broad authority to intercept telephone calls and other electronic communications of American citizens on American soil without first obtaining a warrant. To the contrary, it was stated during the debate that the authorization ``provides no new or additional grants of power to the President.'' (see CONGRESSIONAL RECORD dated Sept. 14, 2001, page H5677)

It is our duty to uphold the provisions of the U.S. Constitution, preserve the system of checks and balances between branches of our Government, and to protect the rights of the American people to the greatest extent possible. We must remain committed to protect the United States from terrorist attacks and to exercise our legislative responsibility to support any lawful means of preventing any future terrorist activity. However, it is our duty to clarify the mischaracterization of our actions. Congress simply did not intend for the AUMF to be used as justification for programs such as the one currently in use by the NSA.

I join my many colleagues, many victims of terrorism, and many victims of racial and religious profiling in opposing the underlying conference report for H.R. 3199.

Of particular concern to me are a number of immigration-related provisions that cast such a broad net to allow for the detention and deportation of people engaging in innocent associational activity and constitutionally protected speech and that permit the indefinite detention of immigrants and noncitizens who are not terrorists. (Carlina Tapia Ruano, Statement for Oversight Hearing on the Reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act before the House Committee on the Judiciary, June 10, 2005.)

Among these troubling provisions are those that:

Authorize the Attorney General, AG, to arrest and detain noncitizens based on mere suspicion, and require that they remain in detention irrespective of any relief they may be eligible for or granted.'' (In order to grant someone relief from deportation, an immigration judge must find that the person is not a terrorist, a criminal, or someone who has engaged in fraud or misrepresentation.) When relief from deportation is granted, no person should be subject to continued detention based merely on the Attorney General's unproven suspicions.

Authorize the Attorney General, AG, to arrest and detain noncitizens based on mere suspicion, and require that they remain in detention irrespective of any relief they may be eligible for or granted.'' (In order to grant someone relief from deportation, an immigration judge must find that the person is not a terrorist, a criminal, or someone who has engaged in fraud or misrepresentation.) When relief from deportation is granted, no person should be subject to continued detention based merely on the Attorney General's unproven suspicions.

Make material support for groups that have not been officially designated as ``terrorist organizations'' a deportable offense. Under this law, people who make innocent donations to charitable organizations that are secretly tied to terrorist activities would be presumed guilty unless they can prove they are innocent. Restrictions on material support should be limited to those organizations that have officially been designated terrorist organizations.

Deny legal permanent residents readmission to the U.S. based solely on speech protected by the First Amendment. The laws punish those who ``endorse,'' ``espouse,'' or ``persuade others to support terrorist activity or terrorist organizations.'' Rather than prohibiting speech that incites violence or criminal activity, these new grounds of inadmissibility punish speech that ``undermines the United States' efforts to reduce or eliminate terrorist activity.'' This language is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, and will undeniably have a chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech.

Authorize the AG and the Secretary of State to designate domestic groups as terrorist organizations and block any noncitizen who belongs to them from entering the country. Under this provision, the mere payment of membership dues is a deportable offense. This vague and overly broad language constitutes guilt by association. Our laws should punish people who commit crimes, not punish people based on their beliefs or associations.

While every step must be taken to protect the American public from further terrorist acts, our government must not trample on the Constitution in the process and on those basic rights and protections that make American democracy so unique.

While the PATRIOT Act may not deserve all of the ridicule that is heaped against it, there is little doubt that the legislation has been repeatedly and seriously misused by the Justice Department. Consider the following:

Its been used more than 150 times to secretly search an individual's home, with nearly 90 percent of those cases having had nothing to do with terrorism.

It was used against Brandon Mayfield, an innocent Muslim American, to tap his phones, seize his property, copy his computer, spy on his children, and take his DNA, all without his knowledge.

Its been used to deny, on account of his political beliefs, the admission to the United States of a Swiss citizen and prominent Muslim Scholar to teach at Notre Dame University.

Its been used to unconstitutionally coerce an Internet Service Provider to divulge information about email activity and Web surfing on its system, and then to gag that Provider from even disclosing the abuse to the public.

Because of gag restrictions, we will never know how many times its been used to obtain reading records from library and book stores, but we do know that libraries have been solicited by the Department of Justice--voluntarily or under threat of the PATRIOT Act--for reader information on more than 200 occasions since September 11.

Its been used to charge, detain and prosecute a Muslim student in Idaho for posting Internet Web site links to objectionable materials, even though the same links were available on the U.S. Government's Web site.

Even worse than the PATRIOT Act has been the unilateral abuse of power by the Administration. Since September 11, our Government has detained and verbally and physically abused thousands of immigrants without time limit, for unknown and unspecified reasons, and targeted tens of thousands of Arab-Americans for intensive interrogations and immigration screenings. All this serves to accomplish is to alienate Muslim and Arab Americans--the key groups to fighting terrorism in our own county--who see a Justice Department that has institutionalized racial and ethnic profiling, without the benefit of a single terrorism conviction.

Mr. Speaker, the sunset proposed in the bill before us is insufficient to allow adequate consideration by the House; therefore, I oppose it.

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