Trump is wrong about people’s rights

If you go out East this week and swing by places like Mount Vernon, Monticello and Montpelier, don’t be surprised if the soil has been disturbed over the graves of our Founding Fathers.

Those founders of this beacon of freedom known as the United States of America surely have turned over in their graves following the news from President Donald Trump.

The president announced that he wants to eliminate due process and access to the courts for people accused of entering the United States without government permission.

“We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country,” the president wrote on Twitter. “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.”

Let that sink in – with no judges or court cases.

Think about what you learned in your history and government classes back in high school. Remember how the American colonists were troubled by the heavy-handed way the British government treated them.

And remember the words you read in the Bill of Rights, specifically in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution: “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Due process is one of the foundations upon which this country was built. The doctrine means that before the government can take away your liberty (or your property), the government must present evidence to an impartial judge or jury to prove that its actions are fair and just. And you must be given the opportunity to present your side.

Trump’s weekend tweets are not the first time the president has disliked at having the courts rule against him or stand in the way of actions he wants to take. Remember that “Mexican” judge presiding over the lawsuit against Trump University? Remember when the president said last week that he did not want to add more immigration judges because many of them could be corrupt?

Even before the series of weekend tweets, Trump has been chipping away at the legal foundation that due process provides.

In March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed a policy that required immigration judges to hold a hearing before they decide cases in which immigrants ask for asylum in the United States. In April, the Justice Department ended a program begun under President George W. Bush that informed people facing deportation of their rights.

The changes are significant because only 14 percent of detained immigrants manage to obtain an attorney. Unlike state and federal criminal courts, migrants appearing before federal immigration judges are not provided with a lawyer if they cannot afford to hire one.

The Trump administration’s policy changes “cleared the way for asylum applicants – most of whom don’t have lawyers, don’t understand the legal system, and may not speak English – to be deported without ever having a chance to state their case to a judge,” said Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Even if you are not an immigrant and do not know anyone who was, everyone should be concerned with ensuring that all people coming before our legal system receive due process and fair treatment.

“A fair day in court can make all the difference,” Wang said.

One example:

When she was a public defender, she represented a man charged with illegally reentering the United States after being deported to the country of his birth. He knew no one there, and after years of trying to make a life in that country, he decided to return to New York, where his family lived.

Because there were fewer immigration cases in New York than along the southern border, the man was not part of the process of assembly-line immigration hearings that are common in the Southwest. Wang discovered that the man had automatically become a U.S. citizen when his mother was naturalized years earlier.

“I got his federal indictment dismissed, though I could not get back the years he had lost in exile by deportation,” Wang said.

Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, who served from 1939 to 1962, said that without due process for those we hate or fear – even those whose guilt may be obvious – we will all eventually lose our freedoms.

Our courts should never be used as instruments of persecution or abuse of power. Frankfurter was right. Our president was wrong with his immigration tweets.

Everyone should have their day in court – whether they are charged with bank robbery, murder, speeding or entering the U.S. without permission.

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Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and retired opinion editor at the Des Moines Register. He is a native of Bloomfield, Iowa, and now lives in Des Moines. He can be reached at

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