San Diego ACLU Discusses Advancing Protections for Our Civil Rights

During our current season of political turmoil, where someone’s civil rights seem to be threatened almost daily, who better to hear from than the ACLU? At our monthly meeting Christie Hill, Senior Policy Strategist from the San Diego ACLU affiliate, provided a thorough overview of the current issues along with actions to take.

“It’s only been 50 days and already we’ve seen unconstitutional Executive Orders and rollback of rights,” Christie began. We’ve seen a rollback of LGBTQ rights, horrific impacts to immigrants and horrible cabinet appointments she went on to explain.

Executive Orders

Christie began with an explanation of the two travel (Muslim) bans and how they differed. The ACLU will continue to challenge even the second travel ban because as Christie explained, “It’s still unconstitutional because only NO Muslim ban would be right.” Locally the ACLU has been working to raise awareness of the ban and its impact.

Many San Diegans have been affected. She recounted the story of a 23 year old Grossmont College student who went home to Saudi Arabia during a school break to visit his family and was prevented from returning for several weeks. He is one of three plaintiffs in an ACLU lawsuit against the travel ban. The ACLU SDIC also filed a FOIA request to obtain documents that explain how the Muslim ban is being implemented.

Many more in our area could be impacted. San Diego has nearly 39,000 residents from the original 7 countries listed in the ban.

The Executive Order on Sanctuary Cities is equally stark. That order changed “deportation priorities” – now it applies to undocumented immigrants who are just “charged” with a crime, not “convicted” of a crime. And the charges can be as minor as using a false social security number to get a job. So much for focusing on violent criminals and “Bad Hombres”!

The memos issued by Homeland Security “tell the real story”, Christie explained. But the scale of these plans will require local law enforcement to take on an ICE role if the administration is to succeed. Previously, expedited removals could only occur within 100 miles of the border and at Ports of Entry for people who had been in the United States for less than two weeks. Now expedited removals would be expanded to cover the whole country for any undocumented immigrant who can’t show that they’ve been in the US for at least 2 years. In other words, “a vast majority of folks become a priority”, Christie explained. Even worse, anyone detained will stay locked up in overflowing detention centers until their situation is resolved.

The Executive Order on Policing and Task Forces is another symbolic statement that established no new laws. However, as Christie said, “they are responding to problems that don’t exist.” For example, there were 135 police fatalities in 2016 and a majority of the deaths have been traffic related. Furthermore, there have been historic lows in the country’s crime rate, yet the order ignores discussing or focusing on deaths of civilians, particularly black and brown people, at the hands of police.

The Education Executive Order revoked landmark guidance which let transgender students use the bathroom of their choice. Now this issue is left to each state to decide once again how to handle this issue. In California we already had laws in this regard so no changes are expected here.

The bottom line? “People are scared”, Christie said. There is a significant psychological impact on families and kids.

What Can We Do?

So what can be done about this? One idea is to follow the example set by the city and county of Los Angeles. They have created a $10 million defense fund to help immigrants who have no other chance of legal representation. They are also issuing guidance for how police should respond under these circumstances. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors could adopt an ordinance or policy limiting county cooperation with federal law enforcement as well. A similar approach can be taken at the city level.

Most importantly we need to guard against overreach. The potential for the new administration to expand on pre-existing surveillance programs is real. These programs could allow for local law enforcement to purchase technology, that could allow for indiscriminate collection of data. This technology is often kept secret from the public, and in some cases legislative bodies like city councils are not aware that the technology has been purchased. We need to insist on ordinances that make such purchases public knowledge and protect against the use of such technology.

We can also decriminalize non-violent crimes that are more frequently committed by immigrants as those could be used to target the community and incarcerate them.

Additionally there are four bills circulating in the California State Legislature that we can actively support by calling our state Senators and Assembly Members. SB54 would limit cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE. AB3 will improve education of public defenders on issues relating to the immigration consequences of criminal convictions. SB6 provides legal services to individuals in removal proceedings who are not otherwise entitled to legal representation under an existing local, state, or federal program. Finally SB31 prohibits state or local agencies from providing or disclosing to the federal government personally identifiable personal information regarding a person’s religious beliefs, practices, or affiliation, when the information is sought for compiling a database of individuals. It would prohibit, for example, law enforcement from participating in any Muslim Registry that might be established in the future. All four of these bills are currently moving through our state legislature.

Finally, we all can get involved at the grassroots level. ACLU has created PeoplePower.org – providing information and “Resistance Training”.

To find out more about our local San Diego ACLU affiliate and how you can get involved, check out their website at ACLUSanDiego.org.

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