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Americans Overwhelmingly Support a Fair Immigration System

Laura W. Murphy,
Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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April 17, 2013

For over 90 years the ACLU has defended the rights of everyone in the United States, whether born in this country or abroad, because the Constitution protects the civil liberties and civil rights of all of them.

The data from a new poll released yesterday that was commissioned by CAMBIO, a new coalition for immigration reform, confirms what we have long known – that the American people agree wholeheartedly that all people in the United States, including immigrants, have fundamental rights under our Constitution.

Case in point: eight in ten of those polled agree that immigrants should not be deported without a judge being able to evaluate the circumstances of their case.

Why is this important?

Though our Constitution guarantees that no person should be deprived of liberty without due process of law, far too often our immigration system does not live up to that promise. The results are devastating, not only to the immigrants themselves, but also to their families.

A key factor that contributes to this unjust system is that, despite its crushing consequences, deportation is a civil penalty, not criminal. Deportation hearings therefore lack many of the due process protections associated with criminal punishment. No right to a speedy trial. No guarantee of going before an immigration judge for a bond hearing. No right to counsel, even for children traveling alone and people with mental disabilities. Costly mass imprisonment of immigrants without any reason to think they would flee or threaten public safety. Separation of U.S. citizen children from their parents (more than 200,000 such parents were deported in 27 months from 2010-2012).

If Americans knew how different the immigration judicial system is from what they are accustomed to when they serve on juries or watch Law & Order, they would be appalled and demand change. That’s exactly what this poll found: decisive majorities of Americans support fundamental values of due process and human rights for immigrants.

Nine in ten support a limit on how long immigrants can be jailed before they see a judge, and 76 percent support access to legal counsel for immigrants if they face deportation. When CAMBIO’s pollsters played out different factual circumstances, people also saw the folly in deporting categories of undocumented immigrants automatically, without looking into the details of their personal cases. Those surveyed showed strong support for the idea that every individual deserves a fair and prompt hearing before a judge who has discretion to make the right call on his or her future.

As we enter this potentially historic moment when our representatives consider immigration reform legislation, Congress should know that the American people strongly support fundamental due process and constitutional guarantees which are sorely lacking in today’s immigration system.

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