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Protecting All "Persons" Means Immigrants, Too

Lucas Guttentag,
Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project
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September 17, 2008

The country is in the middle of another bitter and divisive debate over immigration. As too often in the past, immigrants are demonized, victimized by racial and ethnic profiling, and blamed for economic and social ills.

Almost every group of new Americans has faced discrimination, hostility and stereotyping. Between the 1880’s and 1960’s, immigration laws targeted Chinese, Japanese, Jews, Catholics, Italians, Mexicans, Eastern Europeans and any non-English speaking non-northern Europeans for discrimination.

Today, aggressive ICE tactics, massive immigration raids in Postville, Iowa and Laurel, Mississippi, and local sheriffs seeking to supplant federal authorities, grab headlines, punish workers and devastate families. Too easily forgotten are the central principles of the Constitution, the civil liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and the fundamental protections afforded all “persons,” not just citizens. For example, the Constitution dictates that every person in the United States is entitled to due process and equal protection; to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures; to criminal proceedings with a presumption of innocence, the right to counsel, a jury trial and freedom from double jeopardy; to protection against cruel and unusual punishment; and to freedom of speech, religion and association.

Immigration raids that seize people indiscriminately, lock down workplaces, arrest without individualized suspicion or rely on racial stereotypes violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Local police that discriminate against Latinos in the name of immigration enforcement violate the 14th Amendment. Deportation hearings that deny due process and detention policies that impose unjustified jailing violate the Fifth Amendment. Prohibiting access to the courts and judicial review for immigrants facing deportation violate the fundamental checks and balances and guarantee of habeas corpus that protect all of us from government abuse. The ACLU is challenging these and other policies every day. We won a landmark Supreme Court victory in INS v. St. Cyr to protect access to the courts for immigrants and to prohibit retroactive deportation.

Whether at the federal, state or local level, we must oppose laws, ordinances and policies that subvert fairness and consistency, that cause or encourage discrimination against people who look or sound “foreign,” and that violate the fundamental values of the Constitution.

Enforcing individual rights and freedoms is the mission of the ACLU. We fight in the courts for every person, regardless of immigration status or citizenship, to be treated with the fairness and dignity that our Constitution guarantees. When you vote, choose those who will do the same.