America is a great nation, about that there is no doubt. What has made this country great, and what has proven to stand the test of time, has been our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These two documents have been the beacon that has guided this nation throughout decades, and we, as a people and a democracy, have shaped and lived our lives by these documents.
For the Hispanic community and minorities, the Constitution has been the standard by which we strive to live too, and the Bill of Rights has been the tool and the mean by which we have achieved the dream that the Constitution of the United States represents.
Before 9/11, we used to live in the comfort of our homes with the knowledge that we were safe and sound. Since 9/11, the way we live, and view the world, forever changed. American needs to protect itself from terrorists, but in fighting the war on terrorism, we have started to dismantle the Bill of Rights, fundamentally changing America.
Forty-five days after 9/11, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, and after only 2 hours of debate on this 342-page document.
The USA Patriot Act expands terrorism laws to include “domestic terrorism,” which subjects political organizations to surveillance, wiretapping, harassment, and criminal action for political advocacy.
The Patriot Act expands the ability of law enforcement to conduct secret searches, gives them wide powers of phone and internet surveillance, access to medical, financial, mental health, and student records, with minimal judicial oversight.
The Patriot Act allows FBI agents to investigate American citizens for criminal matters without probable cause of crime if they say it is for “intelligence purposes.”
The Patriot Act permits non-citizens to be jailed based on mere suspicion, and to be denied re-admission to the U.S. for engaging in free speech. Suspects convicted of no crime may be detained indefinitely.
Letting the FBI investigate those engaged in free expression, free association, and unfettered practice of religion violates the First Amendment. The Fourth Amendment is violated by intrusive surveillance without probable cause, infringing on privacy. The Fifth and Sixth Amendment were made null and void by the jailing and holding in custody thousands of men because of their religious or ethnic background, not because of actual wrongdoing, without due process of law and without a speedy public trial. The Fourteenth Amendment, stating that all persons (citizens and non-citizens) within the US are entitled to due process and equal protection of the laws, no longer applies.
In 2003, the Bush Administration looked to expand the Patriot Act with Patriot Act II, written by Attorney General John Ashcroft’s staff. The public backlash to this new assault on the Bill or Rights caused the administration to dismantle Patriot Act II, and they reassembled its parts into other legislations.
For example, on Saturday December 13, 2003, when U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein, President George W. Bush quietly signed into law a bill that grants the FBI sweeping new powers. By attaching the redefinition of “financial institution” to an Intelligence Authorization Act, the Bush Administration and its Congressional allies avoided public hearings and floor debates for the expansion of the Patriot Act. The FBI obtained the power to probe financial records of anyone even if the feds don’t suspect their involvement in crime or terrorism.
The United States is a country that is based on checks and balances. We have a Congress and Senate to debate and analyze issues. The public is informed through the various medias to discuss and provide input into issues. It is through this process that the U.S. develops and goes into the future. Yet, the types of political tactics the Bush Administration is using has usurped this process, and brings into question what this administration has planned for the future.
For the Hispanic community, once the terrorist threat dissipates, how will these new laws affect the ability for minority communities to fight for their rights, granted under the Constitution of the United States? Historically, we have the Bill of Rights on our side to protect us and provide us with the means to make our voices heard without fear of retribution, and safe in the knowledge that we are protected. The question now is are we willing to give up these rights in the face of terrorism, or do we stand up and guard the Bill of Rights that is being taken away from us?
The concept of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights is what makes America great. Let’s keep it that way!