ACLU issue areas
Madhuri Grewal,
Former Federal Immigration Policy Counsel,
ACLU National Political Advocacy Department
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December 17, 2019

From the continued separation of families, to attacks on asylum-seekers, to the largest immigration raid ever in a state, to an unprecedented number of immigrants jailed by ICE, this year was filled with new lows for the Trump administration.

The ACLU, partners, and activists have been fighting nonstop for immigrant communities across the country. ACLU activists took over 400,000 actions against Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda and in support of humane immigration policies. Even in today’s challenging political climate, we are seeing our immigrants’ rights movement grow and gain momentum. This year, Congress introduced important legislation and carried out a steady stream of oversight hearings. Below are some highlights from this year.

The Trump administration rescinded a number of critical programs that protected two million immigrants from deportation, including protections for Dreamers through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and immigrants from countries including Nepal, El Salvador, and Liberia through Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). In June, after months of advocacy and massive public support, the House of Representatives passed the Dream and American Promise Act (H.R. 6). This was the first bill focused on granting a pathway to citizenship to pass a chamber of Congress since 2010. ACLU activists sent over 10,000 messages in support of the bill. 

The House of Representatives passed Rep. Veronica Escobar’s bill, the Homeland Security Improvement Act (H.R. 2203), which would increase oversight and provide meaningful accountability of ICE and CBP’s actions. Senator Udall introduced a Senate counterpart of the bill.

There were also a number of bills introduced this year that serve as the gold standard for a future administration and Congress committed to immigration reform. Last week, Rep. Chuy Garcia introduced the New Way Forward Act, which if enacted would lead to a dramatic and large scale reform of our existing punitive immigration enforcement system. The Act corrects injustices embedded in our immigration laws, many of which have enabled this administration’s cruel and inhumane assaults on noncitizens in our country and at the border. This bill would dismantle the draconian immigration laws passed in 1996 and would restore fundamental principles of due process and compassion to a deeply imbalanced immigration system.

Other important bills include Representative Jayapal and Senator Booker’s bill the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act; Senator Durbin’s bill on solitary confinement; legislation by Senators Leahy and Murray to curtail the existing “100-mile border zone;” and Representative Brown’s bill on access to counsel for immigrants. 

And right now, funding for the Department of Homeland Security — specifically its sub-agencies ICE and CBP — is at the center of budget negotiations for the next fiscal year. Through extensive advocacy from organizations and constituents, there is an ongoing fight to ensure that our government’s budget does not give another raise to the president for continued attacks on immigrants. ACLU activists have made and sent almost 30,000 calls and emails to their representatives on the issue. 

Legislation, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. One of the best ways Congress wields its power is demanding answers of government officials through oversight hearings. Members can also call on non-government witnesses to provide a firsthand account of the impact of immigration laws and policies on real people. The ACLU has testified or been involved with numerous hearings this year — perhaps more than we’ve ever seen in a single calendar year. 

ACLU staff and clients provided expertise, submitted statements, and testified this year on numerous issues including: family separation; the deportation of veterans and service members; the lack of oversight, expansion, and abuses in detention; Trump’s attacks on asylum and immigrants along the border; deferred deportation for people with serious medical conditions; and the unprecedented Mississippi ICE raids

The threat to immigrants’ rights is far from over. The ACLU will continue the fight against Trump’s abuses and hold members of Congress accountable to our values and the Constitution. 

Part of an end of year wrap-up series. Read more:

2019 was a Watershed Year in The Movement to Stop Solitary Confinement

The Death Penalty in 2019: A Year of Incredible Progress, Marred by Unconscionable Executions

The 2020 Election Promises Record Turnout

Under Attack by Trump, Immigrant Justice is Advancing in the States

The Battle for Abortion Access is in the States

In 2019, We Fought Across the Country to Dismantle Mass Incarceration. We Won on Multiple Fronts.

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