[UPDATED: NSEERS is dead!] Report your phone calls to Congress about ending NSEERS here

U.S. Capitol[UPDATE, 12/22/16: CNN reports “Obama administration ending program once used to track mostly Arab and Muslim men: “President Barack Obama’s administration said Thursday it was ending a dormant program that once was used to track mostly Arab and Muslim men.”The Department of Homeland Security is removing outdated regulations pertaining to the National Security Entry-Exit Registration Systems (NSEERS) program, with an immediate effective date,” said Neema Hakim, a department spokesman.”]

On Saturday, speakers at the “Registries revived?” forum asked the audience to contact their Members of Congress to directly ask President Obama to end the NSEERS program.  You can read more about that forum here.

It’s helpful to collect information people gather during these phone calls; if you’re willing to share who you called and what you learned, please use the form embedded below.

 

A shortened link for the form itself is http://tinyurl.com/hjdtwst

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Muslim registry teach-in advises calling Congressmembers *now*

On Saturday afternoon of December 17, over a hundred audience members attended an informative forum at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church titled “Registration Revived? A Teach-In on Resisting Muslim Registries.” Speakers at the event — organized by the Muslim American Women’s Policy Forum (MAWPF) — included Deepa Iyer and Dr. Maha Hilal.

Speaker Deepa Iyer is introduced by Muslim Women's Policy Council spokeswoman X.

Speaker Deepa Iyer is introduced by MAWPF spokeswoman Ramah Kudaimi.

Deepa Iyer, an author and former executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), led with remarks placing the current situation in its full post 9/11 context.  In 2003, Bush Justice Department appointee Kris Kobach devised NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System) to compel male immigrants over the age of 16 who were from Muslim-majority countries (from Iraq to Saudi Arabia and from Afghanistan to Bangladesh) to appear for registration at immigration facilities in their region.

Ms. Iyer recommended and played an excerpt from “Whose Children Are These?“, a 2004 documentary about three young people affected by a program that registered 83,000 residents — and deported 13,000, none for terror-related acts or conspiracies.  Though bitterly opposed by American Muslim and civil rights activists, it took until 2011 to end registries under the program — but only by the ruse of whittling the list of countries of origin ‘qualifying’ for registry down to zero. NSEERS wasn’t so much dead as undead, ready to rise from its administrative grave when a different president came along — complete with documents ready to be dusted off.

And so here we are.  As the next speaker, Dr. Maha Hilal — executive director, National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF) — pointed out, there are direct connections between a government’s willingness to model racial and ethnic profiling of this kind on a mass scale, and a culture’s willingness to tolerate and embrace it on the personal level — ranging from indifference to acts of hate and bias, to applause for them or worse.  The theory — from federal offices to the street — becomes that Muslims are inherently predisposed to acts of violence, and should be treated with suspicion and hostility as a group.

Both speakers as well as local activists Noor Mir and Darakshan Raja urged the audience to help resist the revival of NSEERS in one or more of the following ways:

  • Call your Members of Congress and tell them to call the White House with the message that President Obama must dismantle NSEERS while there’s still time. Call…
    1. Congressman and Senator-elect Chris Van Hollen: (301) 424-3501; (202) 225-5341
    2. Congressman John Delaney: (301) 926-0300; (202) 225-2721
    3. Congressman John Sarbanes: (301) 421-4078; (202) 225-4016
    4. Congressman-elect Jamie Raskin: (301) 642-0668 (campaign office)
    5. Senator Ben Cardin: (301) 762-2974; (202) 224-4524
    6. Senator Barbara Mikulski: (410) 962-4510; (202) 224-4654
      (Report how each conversation went here.)
  • Educate others about the issue. Articles explaining NSEERS and how to stop its revival are linked throughout this blog post.
  • Prepare to shift the narrative if a terror attack implicates some Muslims.
  • Advocate briefings of local city and county councils on programs like NSEERS and “CVE” (countering violent extremism) programs that stigmatize Muslims.
  • Organize your professional community, especially lawyers and policy makers.
  • American Muslims should be ready to bring discussions to their friends, mosques, and communities.

Resources (compiled by MCCRC; input welcome):

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Bystander Intervention Workshop equips participants to help targets of bullying, bias

ACLU Montgomery County's Darian Unger makes some introductory remarks.

ACLU Montgomery County’s Darian Unger greets participants.

What do you do when you see someone being hassled or worse because of their identity or views?

On Thursday evening, December 15, an audience of about eighty people attended a workshop led by MCCRC activist Kit Bonson at the Silver Spring Civic Center to find answers to that question together.  Among the takeaways:

  • focus on the target, not the harasser; de-escalate, don’t exacerbate
  • learn what the target wants: “how can I help?”
  • activating your smartphone camera is as simple as “double-clicking” the phone’s start button, for Androids, or “on + swipe left,” for iPhones.  (Kids may know this by heart, but a lot of parents don’t. 🙂 )

After explaining some of the concepts of nonviolence and intervention, the workshop broke up into groups of ten, where participants and facilitators acted out scenarios as “target,” “harasser/bully,” and “intervening bystander.”

Some of the scenarios participants worked through included a woman with a hijab being harassed on public transportation, a trans person being hassled on the way to the restroom, and a Latino store clerk being berated by a customer.  We learned to ignore or distract attackers, to recruit others as appropriate, and to check with the target to find out how (or whether) to help.  A “Know Your Rights” brochure from the Montgomery County Hate Violence Committee, detailing options for hate crime victims, was also distributed.

Materials from the workshop itself will be made available at a later date.  If you’re interested in hosting or participating in a workshop like this one, let us know using this workshop interest form

Nik Sushka checks in a participant. Name tags were color coded so groups of 10 could form up easily.

Nik Sushka checks in a participant. Name tags were color coded so groups of 10 could form up easily.

We thank our co-sponsors, particularly County Councilman Tom Hucker, and ACLU of Montgomery County who arranged the room, as well as Peace Action Montgomery, Jewish Voice for Peace-DC Metro, Progressive Democrats of Montgomery County, Peace Committee of Sandy Springs Friends Meeting, and Just Peace Circles, Inc.

 

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Local gang victim seeks help from PGPD – instead betrayed to ICE

On the evening of Sunday, December 4, a large “Takoma Park Mobilization”* assembly at Piney Branch Elementary School heard a moving request by resident Gabrielle Tayac on behalf of “Antonio” (not his actual name).  The undocumented 18 year old Honduran had fled a childhood pressed into service of gangs in 2014, made a home in Fort Washington, and had come to be part of her family and Piscataway tribe.

Unfortunately, Antonio got into a fight resulting in charges, a guilty plea, and then — unbeknownst to him — a deportation order marking him as a gang member.  Meanwhile, feeling menaced by *real* gang members in the area, Antonio sought guidance and protection from police.

What he got instead, on October 24, 2016, was a betrayal.  Ms. Tayac:

…around mid-October he had started to be feeling some threats, and he was told to make a report to the police who had interviewed him … he …and this advocate asked to me to have this meeting in my home, because there was a promise that he would be helped, that the report would be credible.  He told them what had happened, and they said, ‘yeah we can help you, you just need to come to Hyattsville and file a report.’

He went to Hyattsville, got to the police station, and they arrested him under the deportation law.  He is right now, he is in ICE detention in Worcester, Maryland.

[…] He was fleeing extremely brutal violence and abuse from gangs in Honduras.   The story that this boy has is almost unspeakable.  […] If he’s deported, he’s going to die.

As a petition on Antonio’s behalf by NDLON (National Day Laborer Organizing Network) puts it:

ICE is now claiming that Antonio is a deportation priority due to gang ties, when he has actually been actively trying to flee the gangs that run much of Honduras. “Antonio is doing everything right, and it seems like ICE is trying to undo that and put him in harms way!” says his friend Andrea.

When a young man turning his life around with art and deepening ties to friends and new family is imprisoned, and faced with deportation that is tantamount to a death sentence, it’s a human tragedy.

But the case illustrates even more than that. For one, it’s abysmally short sighted policing.  If fighting gangs with roots abroad is a priority, one thing *not* to do is help them out by delivering those who got away back into their clutches.  And if protecting and serving the community is a priority, another thing *not* to do is to abuse the trust of that community.

It also illustrates how limited the scope of city and county immigration and sanctuary policies can be.  In 2014, Prince George’s County was — rightly — praised by CASA de Maryland and the ACLU for to its decision not to hold jailed, undocumented immigrants beyond their scheduled release at federal request unless there was probable cause of another crime.  Yet observe how little good that did Antonio, or how little it seemed to change the policies on the ground of that county’s police — judging by the low cunning of the tawdry scheme described by Ms. Tayac.

We advocate strong, binding language by county government that would prevent our own police from ever betraying a young man the way the PG police department did.  A model ordinance developed by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation — the Model Ordinance to Protect Against Discriminatory Profiling and Limit Surveillance, Intelligence Collection, and Immigration Enforcement Activitieshas a Limits on Local Immigration Enforcement Activities section that leads with the simple declarative sentence:

A. Local law enforcement agencies shall not participate in activities related to enforcing federal immigration laws.

It goes on to specify:

1. Local immigration enforcement. Local law enforcement agencies shall not engage in agreements with Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) components, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), to facilitate the enforcement of federal immigration law. Programs for which such engagement is prohibited include, but are not limited to: agreements under section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act; the Criminal Alien Program; and Next Generation Identification.

2. Detainers. Facilities under the jurisdiction of this body shall not be used to detain persons held for suspected immigration violations. Law enforcement agents shall not make arrests or detain persons based on administrative warrants or requests by federal agencies for removal, including those generated by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) or the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. Local officials shall not hold persons based on detainers requested by ICE.

3. Sharing Arrest Data. Local law enforcement agencies shall not share arrest data (including but not limited to fingerprints) with state or federal counterparts, including the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), unless it relates to suspected violent felonies. Data pertaining to persons suspected of misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies shall not be shared with other law enforcement agencies absent an express duty under federal or state law.

Antonio would have been safer in a city or county where this law was on the books.  Just as much to the point, so would the rest of us.  When a young man goes to the police for help and safety, and is delivered into danger instead, trust in law enforcement is weakened, and gangs are strengthened.  That’s not the kind of city or county anyone needs.  We can and should do better.

=====
* The “Takoma Park Mobilization” is a remarkable and evolving grassroots effort you can learn more about here.

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Letter to the editor on sanctuary policy

On December 2, Emily Townsend, Jeremiah Nisbet, and Thomas Nephew drafted and sent the following letter to the Washington Post.  We haven’t heard back from them, and have decided to publish it here:

To the Editors,
 
The November 30th editorial, “Trump pledged to ‘end’ sanctuary cities. Common sense, not threats, should guide him”, suggested that local sanctuary policies expose communities to risks from dangerous criminals, and that local governments should resign themselves to cooperating with “reasonable” federal guidelines weakening sanctuary policies. 

We disagree, and believe that decisions about local law enforcement priorities are best left to local governments to decide.  Sanctuaries do far more to enhance safety and security than harm it, because they encourage an otherwise isolated community to talk with police rather than hide from them. City and county councils and the police departments they oversee are fully capable of balancing the great benefits of sanctuary against the risks.

Indeed, we think our own community in Montgomery County would benefit from strong ordinances guaranteeing the separation of local law enforcement from the unrelated realm of immigration law.  A model ordinance developed by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation proposes an end to local-federal immigration agreements such as 287gs, an end to the use of county jails as de facto immigration detention facilities, and an end to sharing data about local undocumented detainees unless related to suspected violent felonies.  We urge everyone to look at this ordinance at www.bordc.org and see if it is a good fit for their locality.

Its our right to make these decisions for ourselves.  We know our communities, we know what works, and we know what will keep us safer.  Let our sanctuary communities thrive in peace.

Sincerely,
Thomas Nephew, Emily Townsend, Jeremiah Nisbet
(first two links added)

We drafted and sent this letter during an initial meeting of the “Civil Liberties/Civil Rights Committee of the “Takoma Park Mobilization.” (We didn’t say that in the letter, since we can’t speak for the whole group.)

Immigration Enforcement and Sanctuary Cities. Graphic by Catholic Legal Immigration Network, https://cliniclegal.org/programs/advocacy

Immigration Enforcement and Sanctuary Cities. Graphic by Catholic Legal Immigration Network, https://cliniclegal.org/programs/advocacy

The “mobilization” is a remarkable grass roots Takoma Park uprising — a recent meeting at Piney Branch ES had at least 300 in attendance.  Initiated by Nadine Bloch, Seth Grimes, and Jen Wofford, the mobilization aims to organize grass roots resistance to the Trump agenda in all its forms, whether the environment, health care, women’s rights, or other issues — like civil liberties, civil rights, or immigration policy — are at stake.  To learn more about “Takoma Park Mobilization“:

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MCCRC proposes model county ordinances defending *everyone’s* rights and civil liberties

Across Morental-ordinance-292x300ntgomery County, people are ready to challenge President-elect Trump’s worst proposals that target our most vulnerable neighbors. Montgomery County is a “sanctuary” county, which means our county police will play no role in enforcing federal immigration law, and that is significant. But the county can go much further than that, and pass local ordinances to prohibit or limit law enforcement engagement in:

  • discriminatory profiling
  • intelligence-sharing with federal authorities
  • undercover infiltration of activist groups and religious institutions
  • cooperation with military personnel
  • over-policing or restricting protests
  • prying into social media accounts

MCCRC will work with allies in the county to customize the model legislative proposals below, drafted by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation. For annotated, linkable views of each ordinance and its sections, visit either of our web site pages:

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Citizen lobbying tips, or “How to Get Your Congressman to Wake Up and Pay Attention!”

Long time MCCRC supporter Bill Day has just shared a great list of citizen lobbying tips on his blog at daylawpractice.com, titled “How to Get Your Congressman to Wake Up and Pay Attention!”

Bill’s experience and expertise comes both from his profession, from joining both MCCRC and NELA (National Employment Lawyers Association) in lobby visits, from his experience as a Congressional intern, and from conversations with his father, a former lobbyist.  With his permission, we’ll just copy and paste his advice:

  • If you find yoU.S. Capitolurself in Washington, visit your Congressman’s office on Capitol Hill and meet with the Chief of Staff and possibly even the Member. Particularly if you are a constituent from out of town, I guarantee that a staff member will be happy to speak with you. According to my father, 10 minutes with the Washington staff is worth 20 with the member.
  • Don’t neglect your state senators and delegates. State law can’t conflict with federal law, but, for example, state civil rights laws often have a much farther reach, better remedies, and more access to the courts than federal law. Also your state representatives may have better access to the Congressman than you; my newly elected Congressman spent years as a state senator.
  • Attend events at which your Member or state legislator is appearing. You would be surprised by the fact that they are not always well attended, and you never know when you might be able to get in a word or two.
  • Donate to the national NAACP and ACLU, but don’t forget that they have local chapters across the country which are always hungry for volunteers.
  • Coalitions of local organizations are very powerful. I once had an opportunity to meet for an hour with Congressman Chris Van Hollen’s staff and for about 20 minutes with the Congressman himself to discuss national security issues and surveillance as part of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition in his district, which includes representatives from a number of state and local organizations, including the ACLU. All politics are local.
  • Don’t neglect organizations who might have a different point of view on other issues. My father used to say that the Congressman had to think very hard when he walked in the door as the company lobbyist accompanied by the union lobbyist when both had the same position. Most of us do not have the clout of a Fortune 100 company and the United Auto Workers, but don’t neglect people like the Chamber of Commerce and local congregations. Maybe they won’t respond, but maybe they will.
  • According to Jack Sinclair, my former Congressman’s AA, a contribution, no matter how small, gets you on the Member’s list of contributors. Members notice if you are both a contributor and a constituent. It does not hurt to volunteer on the campaign either.
  • If you can find a substantial donor or even better, a fundraiser, a handwritten note approving an enclosed news article can have a real impact.
  • If you call your Congressman, don’t just leave a comment with the receptionist, tell them that you have a question you would like to ask the relevant staff member.

Other good citizen lobbying advice:

  • Advice from a Citizen Lobbyist :Guidelines, Rules of Thumb, and Suggestions for Lobbying in the Oregon Legislature (Peter Chabarek, shared with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, 10/28/15):

    …Consider everyone you encounter in the legislature as either an ALLY or a POTENTIAL ALLY. The issue of civil liberties cuts right across party lines, so make no assumptions about who you think will help or hurt the movement. Assume that anyone who doesn’t yet agree with defending the Bill of Rights simply needs to be educated more. That’s our job. And legislators’ aides can be very important allies, even if they take the opposing view, so work on everyone.

    Be RESPECTFUL BUT ASSERTIVE when dealing with legislators and their staff….

  • A former congressional staffer explains how to best stand up to Trump through Congress (Vox, 11/15/16). In a series of tweets, former staffer Emily Ellsworth explained what works best *short* of seeing your Congressman in person:

    …First, tweeting or writing on Facebook is largely ineffective. I never looked at those comments except to remove the harassing ones.
    Second, writing a letter to the district office (state) is better than sending an email or writing a letter to DC.
    But, the most effective thing is to actually call them on the phone. At their district (state) office.

    She explains that emails were handled by computer algorithm, which letters could not be — and that mass phone call campaigns were tactics guaranteed to get the Congressperson’s attention because they sure get the staff’s attention.

I’ll just add that you may not think it’s useful to lobby some of your representatives because you figure they are already on your side.  Not so: you’re helping them stay in touch and  know what matters to their constituency — you — day in, day out.  You can also learn useful background about the substance and politics of a given issue from a sympathetic staffer or legislator.

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Hate crime surge countered with peaceful rally in Silver Spring

An increase in hate crimes over the past year and particularly in the last month was rebuffed by local elected officials and hundreds of local citizens on Sunday’s “Stand Up for the Montgomery Way” rally in Silver Spring.

Ama a todos! Love evreything! Share the love!

Ama a todos! Love evreything! Share the love!

As Montgomery County residents are all too aware, there has been a worrisome wave of hate crimes and bias incidents this year leading up to the November 8 general election and after – 62 this year already, up 17 percent from 2015.  Among those in just the last month:

So it was welcome to see a veritable who’s who of local officials including County Executive Ike Leggett, Senator Chris Van Hollen, Congressman Jamie Raskin, and many others standing shoulder to shoulder to push back — both against local lowlifes seemingly emboldened by Donald Trump’s victory, and against fears among immigrants stirred by Trump himself and his incoming administration.  And it was more heartening yet to see an estimated six hundred people from every corner of the county on hand to applaud and join them.

What’s more, many of the people in attendance won’t just be attending this rally: MCCRC activists collected names and email addresses from over 230 people who want to stay in touch about the kinds of local events, teach-ins, and lobby visits we’ve done in Montgomery County, Annapolis, and Washington DC.

A County Council resolution last week both condemned the recent hate crimes in the county and assured county residents that “The Montgomery County Police Department will play no role in enforcing federal immigration law,” adding that “County residents should never be afraid to seek help from our public safety officers.”

If you are victimized by a hate crime in Montgomery County, you can turn to county and state government for help:

  • At the state level, Attorney General Brian Frosh has established a 1-866-481-8361 hotline for people to call if they’ve been victimized on the basis of their identity.
  • Montgomery County has a well-organized hate response system, described in the brochure “Know Your Rights“:
    • Hate Crimes Coordinator: 240-777-6082
    • Montgomery County Office of Human Rights: 240-777-8450 (administers “Partnership Fund for Victims of Hate Violence”: up to $2000 for property damage from an act classified by the police as a hate/violence act, and $4000 for medical expenses from injury from such an act).

One of the most important points the brochure makes to victims of hate crimes is this one: “No matter what your immigration status, report the hate incident. The MCPD does not question the documentation status of victims and witnesses to crimes.”

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MCCRC appeals WMATA denial of request to document bag searches are “random”

mtpd-patch[SIGN OUR PETITION AGAINST BAG SEARCHES]

Today, MCCRC continued to press our “PARP” (public access records process) with the regional transit authority WMATA, appealing the agency’s 2/24/16 administrative decision that the first six elements of our request could not be provided on grounds that they are “Sensitive Security Information.” As we reported in January, MCCRC was seeking information regarding:

1) locations and times of bag search unit deployments over the 6 month period ending at the end of last December.
2) documents from the same time frame substantiating that bag searches were truly “random,” including measures taken to ensure that,
3, 4) numbers of false positives and bag search refusals over the same time period.
5, 6) costs and subsidies of the program over the same time period, and the most recent cost-benefit analysis or program evaluation of the program.

Each of these requests was denied on “sensitive security information” grounds.  Yet it’s hard to see why.  Referring to the “alleged random explosive screening program” as “ARESP”, Thomas Nephew wrote in the appeal,

…the description of methods used to assure any truly random inspection or selection process cannot be sensitive security information — since there should be no systematic, planned pattern to divulge. Indeed, it would be to WMATA and the public’s clear benefit to divulge just how the “randomness” of their bag searches is assured: the more convincing that demonstration, the clearer the program’s (alleged) deterrent effect will be to would-be attackers.

and continuing later,

To sum up bluntly, either (1) WMATA and MTPD have been lying that the ARESP is a truly random bag search program, or (2) they have no acceptable basis for refusing to divulge just how that randomness is assured; rather, they should welcome that demonstration. That, in turn, means this is precisely the kind of inquiry that FOIA and PARP processes were designed to illuminate: whether or not our public agencies are misleading us and serving us badly. Refusal to turn over information substantiating that the bag searches are random can only be interpreted as an admission of guilt that they are in fact nonrandom, biased searches.

“Randomness” of bag searches is not inconsequential; the Macwade v. Kelly case WMATA itself cites in their response, upholding a New York subway bag search program, actually insists on the randomness of bag searches as a prerequisite for upholding the program.
We appealed the denials of both items 1 (locations and times of bag search deployments) and 2 on those grounds.

We appealed denials of requests 5 and 6 on the grounds that revealing the aggregate cost, funding sources, and latest cost-benefit or program evaluations do not in themselves reveal sensitive security information, and that the public is entitled to data supporting the efficacy of the program, if there is any, which we doubt.  The same applies to item 3 (false positives); we can infer (and WMATA essentially confirmed in denying a 7th request for data about persons forwarded to other agencies) that there have been no true positives, since we can be sure we’d never hear the end of it if an attacker were actually apprehended via a bag search, and that hasn’t happened.  The question is how many times the program results in accusations towards innocent Metro customers.

Re the denial of information about bag search refusals, we wrote,

We are at a loss to imagine how a 6 month count of bag search refusals — a constitutional right admitted by even by WMATA and insisted on by MacWade v. Kelly — can be permitted to constitute “sensitive security information.”

As also noted in the appeal, it is our suspicion that rather than being “sensitive” information, there may in truth be no information at all for some of our requests — and that’s not good either, either in itself or especially when obscured behind a ‘sensitive information’ smokescreen:

We do not seek to score mere debating points. Nearly every day, there is news of law enforcement behavior that is disappointing or worse, often having to do with racial or ethnic bias towards some Americans but not others. We seek, and the public deserves, public, indisputable proofs that a system is in place guaranteeing the publicly asserted claim that bag searches are “random.”

We suspect, though, that there is in fact no such system, and no such guarantee to be made. Rather, to WMATA and MTPD, “random” may mean (improperly) something much more like “arbitrary”: police officers waiting for “a while,” then selecting someone “at random” from the crowd of commuters hurrying by, with no attention from supervisors whether any random selection process is actually followed. That would be a recipe for unequal, biased decisionmaking by officers.

If so, WMATA’s refusal to provide documents substantiating how the randomness of searches was assured would not be based on the risk of revealing so-called “sensitive security information”, it would in truth be based on the nonexistence or inadequacy of such documentary evidence — and with the public none the wiser. It is critical that either an administrative judge or a regular court judge insist that that the “sensitive security information” rationale be disallowed, at least for Part 2 of our request. If there are no supporting documents supporting WMATA’s repeated public contention that its bag searches are truly random, WMATA and MTPD should be required both to admit that, correct that, and publicly document that.

We await WMATA’s administrative appeal decision with interest.

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Van Hollen, Raskin, Flowers, twenty other MD candidates respond to MCCRC/Peace Action questionnaire

Congressional districts in Montgomery County. Image via

Congressional districts in Montgomery County. Western (dark green): 3d CD; eastern (light green): 6th CD; central (purple): 8th CD. Image via Maryland Department of Planning. Click image to magnify. To determine your Congressional district, visit mdelect.net.

Twenty three candidates for Senate and 3d, 6th, and 8th Congressional District Representative seats have responded to a 13 part questionnaire circulated by MCCRC and Peace Action Montgomery.  The questionnaire and links to election pages and candidate questionnaire pages can be found at 2016 Maryland primary election questionnaires; a table of responses linking to individual candidate pages and comments can be viewed at a candidate response table page.

Respondents include Chris Van Hollen, campaigning for the Democratic nomination to run for Senate in November, as well as Jamie Raskin, Joel Rubin, Ana Sol Gutierrez (8th CD Democratic primary candidates), and Margaret Flowers (seeking the Green Party Senate nomination). Republican, Libertarian, unaffiliated candidates and other Green Party candidates responded as well.  We thank all participants for their answers.

In addition to “yes” or “no” answers to questions ranging from drone warfare to nuclear weapons and from encryption to police violence, almost all candidates supplied many thoughtful comments elaborating on those answers.  We believe the questionnaire will be extremely valuable to many voters, both in learning more about these issues (our questions are footnoted with links to supporting information) and to learn where Maryland candidates stand on each of them.

2016 Primary Candidate Questionnaire image320x427Prominent non-respondents include the Donna Edwards, Kumar Barve, Will Jawando, Kathleen Matthews, and David Trone campaigns.  While most simply never replied, the Kathleen Matthews campaign notified us late last week — nearly three weeks after first receiving the questionnaire — that “given the limited time between now and the primary, and all that we need to do, we’re no longer filling out questionnaires.”  The Edwards campaign replied to an early reminder e-mail, but not to subsequent ones.

We find instructive the failure of both Congressman John Delaney (6th CD) — challenged directly in our NSA question — and John Sarbanes (3d CD) to answer our questionnaire.  In a state that has seen to it — via the kind of extreme gerrymandering apparent in the Montgomery County map above — that politicians and parties can all but pick their constituents rather than vice versa, it seems telling that incumbents like these two would also choose to duck substantive questions about their views.  Are Montgomery County voters’ concerns on foreign policy or civil liberties an afterthought to these Congressmen?

While the candidate survey was incomplete — and it’s possible that nonrespondents have different views — we are very encouraged by the broad, transpartisan support expressed for civil rights and civil liberties principles.  For example, 100% of the 22 candidates choosing to answer question 8, “Surveillance of First Amendment protected activities” —  whether the candidate would support Congressional investigation of FBI and DHS snooping on Black Lives Matter, environmental, and other nonviolent political movements — responded in the affirmative.  Support for the civil liberties or civil rights point of view was similarly high among responding candidates that metadata  — historical data about the nature of your communications (to/from/when/where) as opposed to its content — are covered by the Fourth Amendment (96%), for rolling back the NSA’s warrantless surveillance programs (96%), protecting encryption via the ENCRYPT Act (95%), and supporting the End Racial Profiling Act and the Stop Militarization of Police Act (91%).   On the other hand, a question asking whether candidates would support increasing the Syrian refugee target number from 10,000 to 100,000 found less agreement (65%).

We’re proud of the questionnaire and its response.  We’re also grateful to our friends at Peace Action Montgomery for a wonderful collaboration on a project of great and mutual interest.  We hope you’ll take a look.

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