Report: Civil rights record of Bush administration abysmal
Steve Schell
November/December 2004

In early October, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a draft report that was highly critical of the Bush administration's civil rights record. Only days after the report's release, at the organization's scheduled monthly meeting, commissioners voted to delay discussion of the report until after the November presidential election. Over the objections of the commission's more conservative members, the report was posted on the USCCR website for public access. This move alone is extraordinary, given the rapid disappearance of important information from many federal websites during the Bush administration.

The draft report concludes that the administration has relegated civil rights to a low priority. The 181-page report, Redefining Rights in America-The Civil Rights Record of the George W. Bush Administration, 2001-2004, analyzes scores of policy reports, scholarly papers, briefs and executive orders to chart the administration's responses to a broad spectrum of civil rights issues. Some highlights of the report include:

Many of the Bush Administration's missteps in the Civil Rights arena were already well known and publicized. After September 11, there were numerous stories on the requirement that men of Arab descent "register" and be questioned. Many of these men were deported or held for extended periods without access to visitors or legal representation. Civil Rights organizations are still fighting illegal detentions in courts across the country. The passage of the USA PATRIOT Act codified previously illegal searches, detentions, and subpoenas, all in the name of "national security." And after the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage, Bush ratcheted up his support for a US Constitutional Amendment that would ban gay marriage. If such an amendment were to pass, it would be the first time in history that an amendment is used to enshrine discrimination in the US Constitution.

The report examines impacts to various disadvantaged populations in the US. Among the findings were:

Immigrants: Bush has endorsed policies that allow discrimination against certain groups in the processing of asylum requests. For instance, on the unproven claim that Haitian refugees may threaten national security, President Bush granted authority to federal agents to hold them in detention indefinitely without bond until their cases are heard by an asylum court. The United States does not apply such a policy to any other immigrant group.

Native Americans: Bush's budget requests for housing programs have not approached the $1 billion required to meet the demand, and consequently, Native Americans have an immediate need for 210,000 housing units. In 2003, President Bush terminated funding for critical law enforcement programs, including the Tribal Drug Court Program. Experts agree that problems with the criminal justice system in Indian Country are serious and understated.

Women: The Bush administration closed the White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach and attempted to close the Women's Bureau at the Department of Labor (DOL). After public outcry it changed course. The administration withdrew Department of Education guidance on sexual harassment in schools from the Internet and ended distribution of information on workplace rights of women.

The report also notes that Bush expanded federal funding to religious groups through the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Although this is seen as a retreat from civil rights, Bush has consistently presented it as an extension of civil rights to religious groups.

As this article goes to press, the USCCR's November meeting is coming up. At this meeting the commissioners should give the report the public discussion that it wrongly postponed in October. To view or download the entire report, visit: http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/bush/bush04.pdf

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