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The USA Patriot Act's Effect on Civil Liberties

  • When
  • June 11, 2003
    3:00–7:00 p.m. (EDT)
  • Where
  • Open Society Foundations–New York
    224 West 57th Street
    New York, NY 10019
    United States of America

The USA Patriot Act and its effects on national security, immigrant rights, and civil liberties in general were the focus of a forum at OSI's New York office on June 11, 2003. Panelists included Steven Brill, a Newsweek columnist who recently published After: How America Confronted the September 12 Era (Simon & Schuster); Kate Martin, executive director of the Center for National Security Studies; and Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The panel was moderated by Antonio Maciel, the director of grantmaking and program development for U.S. Programs at OSI and the former director of the Emma Lazarus Fund, a now-closed OSI program that focused on immigrants' rights.

The Patriot ( Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism ) Act was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Bush less than two months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. The law gives law enforcement authorities greater latitude to develop and implement antiterrorism policies, including the ability to monitor and detain citizens suspected of sympathizing with or having links to organizations or individuals that authorities believe have direct ties to terrorist activities. In a lively discussion, Brill defended some of the Patriot Act's provisions and other developments that have appeared to restrict the rights of certain immigrants; Meissner and Martin, meanwhile, were more critical of the law and subsequent Justice Department policies, arguing that they have unfairly targeted innocent people and had an overall chilling effect on civil rights in the United States.

The forum was convened nine days after the Justice Department s inspector general released a report highlighting harsh conditions faced by the more than 700 illegal immigrants detained without charges by the federal government since September 11. On the day after the forum, June 12, 2003, federal law enforcement authorities announced that in response to the report they would implement policy changes designed to improve conditions at the facilities and place unspecified restrictions on interrogation methods.

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