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How to Help Families at the Border Right Now

Demonstrators carrying signs with the text "Families Belong Together"
Demonstrators carrying signs with the text "Families Belong Together"
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June 28, 2019

The images of Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria, who lost their lives trying to seek refuge in the United States, have left us haunted. They serve as an ever-important reminder of the urgency of the fight for immigrant justice on our southern border and the need to stand up to the Trump administration's policies denying humanitarian protection and basic due process to families fleeing for their lives.

We remain at the frontlines of the family separation fight. In early 2018, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit to stop the separation of families at the border and to require the immediate reunion of all separated children and parents. And last June, a federal judge issued a national injunction in our lawsuit, requiring the reunification of thousands. We have continually fought the administration’s efforts to stonewall the reunification and continue their zero-tolerance policy toward people who come to the United States seeking asylum.

We are in court working to block President Trump’s abuse of emergency powers to secure funds for a border wall Congress denied (thanks in part to our advocacy in D.C.). In May, a federal judge ruled in our lawsuit, which we filed on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), that President Trump couldn’t get his wall by illegally diverting taxpayer money. The Sierra Club and SBCC represent the communities who live in, protect, and treasure the lands and communities along the southern border. The Trump administration appealed that decision, and we await the next steps from the 9th circuit.

But we’re not just responding to the moment — we’re building for immigrant justice in the future. The ACLU is a nationwide organization, with an on-the-ground presence in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Because we have a vibrant presence in every state, we at the ACLU are not only able to push back against abuses and litigate, but also work to enact pro-immigrant rights laws.

The Border Rights Center (BRC), housed at the ACLU of Texas, advocates for the 15 million people from California to Texas who call our southwest border home. The ACLU staff in our affiliates and the BRC work closely with border communities and people coming to the United States, and serve as an important watchdog on the federal immigration agencies at the border, especially Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This week, they shared this latest dispatch about the inhumanity and suffering of the people in our government’s care at the border.

After we filed our family separation lawsuit, it quickly became clear that the Trump administration didn’t have a plan to meet the court-ordered deadlines to reunite families. In one court filing, lawyers for the Trump administration suggested that the ACLU should take on the responsibility of finding those missing parents. Because the government wasn’t willing to carry out the search itself, the ACLU, along with a small group of other organizations, set out to do just that. We will continue to track down the families impacted by the family separation crisis. Details of our investigative work — the family separation crisis by the numbers — are here.

Across the country, we, in partnership with movement leaders and activists, have built coalitions necessary to move a proactive agenda forward in the states. In Washington state, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Utah, New York, and others, we’ve seen legislatures stand up for immigrants, and we have been proud to support allies and fellow community members in pushing for positive change.

In Washington, we helped lead the coalition that just three weeks ago passed the American Dream and American Promise Act to protect Dreamers as well as Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure beneficiaries from deportation. It’s a historic piece of legislation that affects more than two million immigrants and is the first stand-alone bill granting a pathway to citizenship to pass a chamber of Congress since 2010. It also represents an essential victory for undocumented activists and all those whose lives have been thrown into uncertainty by the Trump administration. We are currently looking towards the Senate to pass this bill so that it can become law.

Even in the midst of extreme rhetoric, many of these wins will limit the Trump administration’s ability to carry out its threats to deport millions.

Across the country, volunteers with our Rights for All campaign are asking presidential candidates to commit to an overhaul of our immigration system. We know that executive leadership is necessary to create a fair and achievable path to citizenship for people who are undocumented, to reduce the number of people languishing in immigration detention, and to put an end to ICE’s reliance on local law enforcement to facilitate deportations.

Our volunteers are securing commitments from presidential candidates and holding them accountable to civil rights for all, regardless of immigration status. We are already seeing the impact of this work, with the criminalization of border-crossing — a policy against which the ACLU has fought for years — getting significant attention at the first democratic presidential debate.

The ACLU is also educating people in America about their rights, especially when dealing with immigration officials. Last year, we joined forces with Brooklyn Defender Services to create and distribute a series of powerful and informative videos based on true stories to provide real action points for what to do when ICE is outside our doors, in our homes, in our communities, and/or arrests us. The videos are available in English, Spanish, Urdu, Arabic, Hatian Creole, Russian, and Mandarin.

We also have a set of materials about your rights if you are asked about your immigration status by law enforcement, detained by CBP, and other immigration-specific scenarios here. And if you are a DACA recipient or you’re within the 100-mile border zone, we have Know Your Rights materials. All of our Know Your Rights content can be found here.

We know that a better future is possible, and we at the ACLU, along with our supporters and allies, are daring to create it.

What You Can Do

Call Congress and tell them to give no additional funds to the Department of Homeland Security. Your taxpayer dollars shouldn’t fund abusive immigration policies, increased detention, or an unnecessary border wall or barrier.

Make the call

Transparency is crucial if we want to put an end to this child abuse and hold CBP accountable. Sign the petition to Congress demanding that they investigate CBP detention sites.


We're taking on the Trump administration's anti-immigrant policies in the courts, in Congress, and in the streets -- but only with your support. Make an urgent donation to fuel our fight.


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