A bill introduced Wednesday in the U.S. Senate to create a new homeland security department fails to include critical rights protections, Human Rights Watch said today. Senators Phil Gramm of Texas and Zell Miller of Georgia offered the bill in response to an earlier version sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

The Gramm-Miller bill fails to provide basic internal oversight and accountability mechanisms for abuses by officers of the powerful new agency. The Gramm-Miller bill also guts key protections for unaccompanied immigrant children, such as access to counsel and a legal guardian for every child in immigration custody. Although these provisions were contained in the Lieberman bill, they are not part of the Gramm-Miller version of the legislation.

"There is no reason for Congress not to include these provisions in the homeland security bill," said Wendy Patten, U.S. advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "Without effective internal oversight and without protections for vulnerable immigrant children, the new homeland security agency will be unable to adequately protect rights."

In letters to each of the 100 U.S. senators, Human Rights Watch called on lawmakers to remedy these failings by insisting that these protections be part of the legislation to create the new department.

The new Department of Homeland Security would include roughly 180,000 employees from 22 federal agencies, including 74,300 armed federal agents. The legislation represents the most significant reorganization of the U.S. government in over 50 years.

"The Homeland Security department should definitely protect basic rights as it carries out its mission," said Patten.