The United States Commission on Civil Rights has degenerated into an appendage of the Clinton reelection campaign through its attempt to stop, through intimidation, the petition drive in Florida to clamp down on illegal immigration; at stake are 25 electoral votes for the Democratic incumbent. The commission was established under the Civil Rights Act of 1957 as an independent, bipartisan, fact-finding agency of the Executive branch. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1983, its membership was expanded from six to eight commissioners, four of whom are appointed by the President and four by Congress, with the caveat that not more than four members shall, at any one time, be of the same political party. The President designates the chairman and vice chairman from among the commission’s members with the concurrence of a majority of the members.

In September 1993, President Clinton designated Mary Frances Berry as chairman and Cruz Reynoso as vice chair. Berry, a lifelong liberal Democrat and civil rights activist, now identifies herself as an independent. Having served as Assistant Secretary for Education in the Carter administration, she was named vice chair of the commission for a two-year term by Jimmy Carter in 1980 and has served as a commissioner ever since. In 1982, Berry coauthored a book in which American blacks are encouraged to consider Marxism, for “subjected to a massive barrage of propaganda from the American newsmedia, few of them know about Russia’s constitutional safeguards for minorities, the extent of opportunity, or the equal provision of social services to its citizens.” In 1986, she was honored by Ms. magazine as one of its “Women of the Year.” Beltway sources reveal that she has a pipeline to friends Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Vice Chairman Cruz Reynoso holds impeccable liberal credentials. Among his more radical affiliations are his having served as a board member of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and of the La Raza Lawyers Association. Reynoso also enjoys the dubious distinction of being the first Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court to be voted out of office since 1932. After a six-year stint, he was repudiated at the polls in 1986 because of his radical agenda. An advocate of an “open borders” immigration policy, he campaigned against California Prop. 187, and, in inflammatory speeches, vilified proponents of immigration reform. His close association with Hillary Clinton is well documented.

The statutory duties of the commission are to investigate complaints that citizens are being deprived, for discriminatory reasons, of their right to vote; to study and collect information relating to discrimination or a denial of the Constitution’s equal protection clause; to appraise federal laws and policies with respect to discrimination or denial of equal protection; to submit reports, findings, and recommendations to the President and Congress; and to issue public service announcements to discourage discrimination or denial of equal protection of the law.

Some political pundits have portrayed the commission as an indispensable aid in healing the wounds caused by official segregation policies and in creating awareness leading to efficient enforcement of our current federal civil rights laws. Critics, on the other hand, point to the commission’s fervor to find a racist under every bed, its lavish expenditures of tax money, and its tendency to promote a liberal agenda at taxpayers’ expense. (In 1984, Mary Berry and fellow council member Blandina Ramirez issued a joint statement, quoted in Jared Taylor’s book Paved With Good Intentions: “Civil rights laws were not passed to protect the rights of white men and do not apply to them.”)

Attorney Rob Ross of Boca Raton, Florida, who recently suffered the abrogation of his civil rights via heavy-handed tactics, views the commission as “one of the last bastions of unabashed liberalism. It may have served a legitimate purpose in the past, but it’s now degenerated into a political tool of the Clinton administration and the Democratic party’s extreme left wing.”

Congress appropriated $9 million to the commission in this year’s budget. Although the commission requested $11 million for next year, the House has cut the allocation to $8.5 million. The “official” biographies of the commissioners present a political profile of two Democrats, three Republicans, and three Independents. A more accurate assessment would be along ideological lines, which would yield five flaming liberals and three moderate conservatives. The commission’s present catalog of publications currently offers the public over 200 reports and publications. An objective review of the report synopsis, such as “Nativism Rekindled; A Report on the Effort to Make English Colorado’s Official Language” or “Who Is Guarding the Guardians? A Report on Police Practices” or “The Administration of Justice for Homosexual Persons in New Orleans,” reveals the liberal bias of the commission’s majority.

An ongoing national project of this commission is a study on “Racial and Ethnic Tensions in American Communities—Poverty, Inequality, and Discrimination,” and as part of this study the commission held two days of hearings in Miami on September 14-15. The press release read, “The Miami hearing is the sixth in the Commission’s Racial and Ethnic Tensions hearing series. The Commission’s investigation into the resurgence of racial and ethnic tensions has resulted in hearings in Washington, D.C. (1991/1992), Chicago (1992), Los Angeles (1993), and New York (1994/1995). . . . The last hearing in the series is planned in the Mississippi Delta region.” The first five hearings were esoteric and occurred without mishap. But the Miami hearings exploded into a national controversy.

In January 1995, a handful of concerned Florida residents—faced with the realization that neither the Clinton administration nor the 103rd Congress had made any effort to secure America’s borders, or to alleviate the social, economic, and criminal problems that illegal aliens have wrought on the Sunshine State—decided to take action. They incorporated the FLA-187 Committee and registered with the state of Florida as a political action committee.

Led by attorney Rob Ross, the group drafted four carefully worded state constitutional amendments, which they hoped to put on the ballot in the 1996 general election. The proposed amendments were concise, detailed, and designed to improve upon the initial California effort. The first would deprive illegal aliens of public benefits and social services. The second would exclude illegals from public schools. The third would require state and local governmental agencies to cooperate with immigration authorities. And the fourth decrees that English be implemented and utilized as Florida’s official language.

Florida places heavy demands on ballot initiatives. The proposition must undergo Supreme Court review for a single issue test, requires 400,000 bona fide signatures of registered voters, and then must win voter approval on election day. Undaunted by the challenge, the volunteers began to organize statewide. They had faith in the democratic process and believed that if the citizens objectively examined both sides of the issues, the signatures and necessary funds for success would follow. Familiar with the California experience, and working closely with the Prop. 187 initiators in the Golden State, they were prepared for political opposition from the “open borders” cabal, the radical left, and those with vested financial interests in unrestrained illegal immigration.

Almost immediately, a Florida contingent of the Committee for Dignity and Justice for Immigrants arose. This committee’s list of “endorsers” reads like a who’s who of the radical left (National Lawyers Guild, Socialist Workers Party, International Socialist Organization, United Farm Workers Union, ILGWU, etc.), interspersed with a few communist fronts for good measure, and the Diocese of Miami Catholic Services for credibility. Their “mission statement” is a manifesto at odds with the traditional American concepts of sovereignty and nationhood. Citizen-taxpayers should note they recognize no difference between the “documented and undocumented” (a/k/a illegals). Though the left has dedicated all its resources to defeat the Florida proposals, and even after months of organized propaganda with full support from the media and with virtually no support of the proposals from elected officials, recent polls still indicate 65 percent voter approval of the proposed amendments, including 58 percent support in the Hispanic community.

This summer, while winning the public debate in the body politic, the FLA-187 Committee was blindsided by an unprecedented attack from an unlikely source, an agency of the executive branch of the federal government—the United States Civil Rights Commission. Washington sources report that on August 1, President Clinton met in the White House with the Hispanic Caucus. The caucus presented a list of demands in return for its support in the ’96 campaign. Candidate Clinton agreed to support full funding of bilingual education programs and also agreed to oppose English as the official national language. In addition, the caucus demanded that the administration oppose any congressional measures for immigration reform. Clinton’s response to this demand is unknown.

Either by coincidence or design, on or about August 2, the Civil Rights Commission decided to expand its Miami hearings to include the activities of the FLA-187 Committee, with the preconceived notion that the petition drive was causing racial and ethnic tensions, though opinion polls suggested otherwise. The operative word in the petitions is: illegal. The committee targeted lawbreakers who illegally enter our country, not racial or ethnic groups.

On August 4, three immigration reform activists in the Dade County area, JoAnn Peart (Chairman of Floridians for Immigration Reform), Enos Schera (Chairman, Citizens of Dade United), and Rob Ross, began receiving phone calls from commission staffers requesting their “cooperation” in the hearings. Peart told commission staffer Sicilia Chinn that she did not want to testify and had no firsthand knowledge of the illegal immigration problem. Her only information is what is already available to the public in newspapers or government reports. After numerous calls and interviews, Chinn asked for Peart’s address so she could subpoena her. When Peart refused to volunteer the information, Chinn replied that they had the resources to have a private detective locate her home and to dispatch a federal marshal with the subpoena.

On August 25, Congressman Foley wrote to Mary Matthews, Commission Staff Director, expressing Peart’s concerns that she was being harassed and intimidated. He said, “I am concerned about the agency’s policy in accosting potential witnesses.” That day. Peart called me to recount her ordeal of the previous three weeks. At one point, sobbing, she said that the staffer had referred to her as a “nationalist.” She wasn’t sure what it meant. I assured her that contrary to commission beliefs, she was in good company with George Washington and the Founding Fathers.

On the same day, Chairman Berry signed subpoenas demanding the appearance of the three activists at the Miami hearings, which were delivered a few days later at their homes by federal marshals. Accompanying these was an outrageous subpoena duces tecum, demanding seven kinds of documents. Each category began with the words, “Any document, including but not limited to . . . “—basically, every scrap of paper, confidential memo, and membership list in the possession of the organization. In the case of Enos Schera, they were demanding 15 years of documents!

Rob Ross, director of FLA-187, was incredulous. He knew the commission had overstepped its legal authority. Furthermore, he was well aware of the history of the California Prop. 187 petition drive. There, activist leaders routinely received death threats, were physically and verbally abused, had their homes vandalized, and one activist, Barbara Coe, was subjected to a six-hour “interview” in her home by the FBI. Ross knew that if he honored the subpoena, his volunteer network would collapse. He fought back.

On September 8, the Tampa Tribune‘s front page carried the headline, “Immigration Group Blasts Agency Tactics.” The story was soon picked up by the statewide media. On the same day. Congressman Charles Canady, chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, sent a scathing letter to Mary Matthews of the commission: “It is my understanding that individuals engaged in legitimate and constitutionally protected political activities have been served with subpoenas to compel attendance against their will and with a two-page detailed request for internal records and documents regarding their First Amendment-protected activities.” He continued, “I have serious concerns that these actions have had the effect of chilling the lawful exercises of First Amendment rights by citizens. In addition, it creates the appearance that the powers of the Commission are being used to target individuals based on the content of their political advocacy.” The congressman went on to inform the commission that he had scheduled oversight hearings “regarding this matter and other issues of concern.” In spite of this letter, and a subcommittee press release. Chairman Berry did not back off.

The story broke into the national news with the Washington Times headline (September 11), “Illegal-Immigrant Foes Get Subpoenas.” Reporter Joyce Price exposed a rift in the commission: three commissioners had expressed concern at the scope of the subpoenas. Commissioner Constance Horner stated, “I think the subpoenas the staff has issued are intrusive, heavy-handed, and chilling of speech and association.” The activists took their case to the press and released copies of the subpoenas. Even liberal newspapers were horrified. The lead editorial of the Palm Beach Post on September 13 carried the headline, “How An Un-Civil Agency Went Far Out Of Control,” with the subhead, “A Delray Beach Woman’s Experience Shows Why People Fear The Federal Government.”

Still under subpoena, Rob Ross spent the weekend of September 10 in Washington, D.C. Although an experienced civil rights litigator himself, he worked feverishly with a constitutional specialist to prepare a complaint against the Civil Rights Commission. His objective was to file in federal district court in Washington an emergent complaint seeking injunctive relief from the subpoenas and then follow with a suit for damages on behalf of himself. Peart, Schera, and their respective organizations.

A 25-page detailed complaint was finalized the morning of September 11. Ross intended to file it the next morning. The press became aware of the impending suit and informed the commission, at which point Chairman Berry relented. On that morning, she sent faxes to the three activists, relieving them of the subpoenas and making appearance and surrender of documents voluntary. Ross, Peart, and Schera all graciously declined her “voluntary invitation.” Ross, preempted, was unable to file his suit.

Instead, Ross decided to take the offensive and forestall future harassment by the federal government. The FLA-187 Committee drafted a resolution it is now attempting to move in the Florida State legislature, detailing the harassment. The statement reads, “A Resolution—Urging the Clinton administration and the Executive branch of the federal government to immediately cease and desist harassment, intimidation, and obstruction of Florida residents engaged in their constitutionally protected right to petition for redress, and to amend their state constitution; and, furthermore, refrain from abusive interference with the internal political process of the sovereign state of Florida.” The body of the resolution contends that the U.S. Civil Rights Commission attempted to violate the First, Fourth, and Tenth Amendment rights of three U.S. citizens, as well as their Article I, see. 4, Article I, sec. 5, and Article XI, sec. 3 rights under the Florida Constitution.

On September 18, Congressman Mark Foley dispatched a strong letter to President Clinton, signed by seven other congressmen, detailing the incident, affirming that “we believe this is a clear violation of their First Amendment rights” and applauding Congressman Canady’s plan for oversight hearings, stating, “We have serious concerns and questions about the tactics of this Commission and the manner in which it utilizes taxpayer dollars on behalf of the federal government.”

Bearing bona fide press credentials, I attended the Miami hearings and had the opportunity to interview Chairman Berry before the hearings began:

Q: Is it possible that Ms. Chinn went overboard in the questioning of JoAnn Peart?


A: No, it’s routine fact-finding; it’s the same for all witnesses.

Q: Here’s the letter to Congressman Foley; do you think Peart’s objections have merit?

A: No, it’s all lies, she’s a liar.

Q: Here’s Rob Ross’s subpoena and demand for documents; do you think the staff went too far?

A: No. We didn’t ask for any sensitive or intrusive information, membership lists or anything like that. The subpoenas didn’t overreach. Look, these subpoenas are simply routine. Since 1957, every witness gets a subpoena. If they don’t have documents they don’t bring them; if they do, they do. If they refuse to comply, well, we can’t force them, as we have no enforcement power. Look, this is just a misunderstanding. It’s a flap blown out of proportion. These “187” people aren’t very sophisticated—these people overreacted.

Q: Unsophisticated? Are you aware that Rob Ross is a former county prosecutor in Essex County, New Jersey—very familiar with subpoenas, enforcement power, and consequences for failure to comply—and is now a successful litigator in private practice?

A: No comment.

Q: How would you respond to the charge that the majority of this committee is utilizing this hearing and taxpayers’ funds to advance their own political agenda?

A: That’s ridiculous. Why, there are only two Democrats on this whole commission. What political agenda?

Q: Should Commissioner Reynoso have recused himself since he actively campaigned against Prop. 187?

A: No.

Q: What is your reaction to Congressman Canady’s oversight hearings investigating your commission to be held on September 27? A: I welcome the hearings. By the way, who do you write for?

Shortly after this interview, I was placed under police surveillance for the remainder of the hearings. In addition. Chairman Berry must have reconsidered her final answer, since a Capitol Hill source witnessed her traversing the halls of the House Office Building on September 20, lobbying Democratic congressmen to quash the oversight hearings.

As for the Miami hearings, they were a taxpayer-funded pep rally for the politically correct. Of 37 panelists scheduled, 34 appeared, and 31 of those were liberals. One conservative, Dan Bradfield, Director of Political Field Operations for U.S. English, was mercilessly grilled because of his desire to make English the national language. The topics and witness list was carefully crafted, and committee counsel Stephanie Moor skillfully maneuvered her questioning in order to make it appear that attempts at immigration reform were causing racial and ethnic tensions in Miami and the state. Witness Angel Dominguez was free to label all proponents of immigration reform as racists. The only voices of reason were those of commissioners Horner and Anderson.

The site chosen for the public hearings was the posh Intercontinental Hotel, far removed from the ethnic communities the commission was ostensibly there to study. Since the “public” was conspicuously absent (staffers outnumbered observers), public facilities could have been utilized. In addition, an attendant estimated the cost to taxpayers for the 200 translation devices, four translators, two sign language interpreters, translation equipment, etc., to be approximately $6,000 per day. For the 12 hours that I attended, people and equipment went unused, since everyone spoke English.

Despite Berry’s protestations, many witnesses were not subpoenaed, nor were they asked to produce any documents. On three occasions I asked Charles Rivera, the commission’s Director of Public Affairs, how many of the 34 witnesses were actually subpoenaed, how many received the additional demand for documents, and how many of them complied. Rivera assured me that committee counsel Stephanie Moore would compile the information and call me. The call never came.

In response to this incident, Rob Ross concludes, “I guess there’s still a need for the commission, if Congress appoints truly objective commissioners who engage strictly in fact-finding. But, as far as the majority of these commissioners . . . if they want to advance their own political agenda, let them form a political action committee, seek private donations, and enter the political fray with the rest of us, rather than hide behind the sacrosanct label of ‘civil rights’ with a blank check from the taxpayer. This incident was not about racial tensions, but presidential politics and the ’96 election. It was a blatant effort to keep our initiatives off the ballot.”