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ACLU Criticizes Criminal Checks of Katrina Evacuees

Posted: September 14, 2005|Category: Privacy

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Expressing “dismay and disappointment” at the state’s actions, the ACLU of Rhode Island today called on state officials to stop conducting criminal background checks on all of the Hurricane Katrina evacuees who have relocated to Rhode Island this week. The ACLU called the checks “intrusive, humiliating and discriminatory.” Below is a statement issued by RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown:

“The ACLU has learned from news reports that, following the lead of some other states across the country, the State Police have begun conducting criminal background checks on all Hurricane Katrina evacuees who have relocated here. Since the evacuees’ arrival, news stories have emphasized how government officials have welcomed them with open arms. In many ways they have. But it is quite troubling to learn that those arms are also placing our guests’ fingers on an ink blotter.

“We are sure that the vast majority of the 106 people who have come here are grateful for all the assistance that has been provided them since they landed in Rhode Island, and they are unlikely to object to a background check. Nonetheless, it remains an intrusive, humiliating and discriminatory response that has the effect of treating the evacuees like common criminals.

“If a major corporation moves to Rhode Island and relocates some of its employees, the state does not immediately think of conducting criminal record checks on them. In fact, of course, people move to Rhode Island and into our local communities from other states every day. Few do so fleeing the devastation that these evacuees have been through. It is thus with dismay and disappointment that we see the state doing this, for it is hard to escape the conclusion that if these evacuees were from the suburbs, this would not be happening.

“We urge the state police to stop conducting criminal record checks absent grounds to suspect individuals of possible criminal activity.”

The practice came to light with the arrest yesterday of one evacuee who had an outstanding larceny warrant in Louisiana.

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