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BERMAN WOULD RELAX PATRIOT ACT BILL WOULD CUT ANTI-MUSLIM PROVISIONS.

Byline: Lisa Friedman Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Rep. Howard Berman introduced legislation Wednesday to limit the USA Patriot Act, noting that he voted for the anti-terrorism bill after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but now feels the policies are ``draconian and ineffective.''

The bill, also sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., would establish an independent immigration court within the Justice Department and terminate the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System. The controversial program registers aliens deemed to pose a high security risk or who originate from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan or Syria.

``When I read about how under the program a bunch of Iranian refugees who fled the ayatollah and came to Los Angeles - where they established roots, raised families and observed all of the laws - were picked up and detained for a number of days because the FBI computer systems didn't work fast enough to clear them, it certainly constituted the kind of conduct we shouldn't tolerate in this country,'' said Berman, D-Van Nuys.

The bill also would open deportation hearings to the public except in cases of national security; require that people jailed on suspicion of immigration violations be notified of the charges against them; and enable people charged with crimes based on data surveillance to see the evidence against them.

Berman said the Patriot Act ``provides a number of critical tools in an effort to deter and apprehend terrorists'' but that ``in a few cases it overreaches, and some of the administration policies undertaken since Sept. 11 have been draconian and ineffective.''

Civil-liberties and immigrant-rights groups rallied in Los Angeles and across the country in favor of the bill, saying it is necessary to stop what several called the ``demonizing'' of foreigners.

``The concern is that the civil liberties of people have been slowly and consistently stripped,'' said Mark Yoshida, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo called the Patriot Act ``one of the most important tools Congress has given the government to combat terrorism.''

Corallo called accusations that the legislation targets foreigners ``absurd,'' and noted that the Justice Department has launched more than 400 investigations of backlash crimes in an attempt to protect immigrants, particularly Muslim Americans.

Paul Rosenzweig, a legal-research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who has defended many of the Patriot Act provisions, called Berman's proposal a ``relatively thoughtful approach.''

``Unlike some of the other bills out there which are addressing nonproblems, this one, with a couple of exceptions, is addressing real issues that are deserving of congressional thought,'' he said.

Lisa Friedman, (202) 662-8731

lisa.friedman(at)langnews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 17, 2004
Words:435
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