ACLU: Protecting Civil Liberties in Immigration Reform Legislation

Download ACLU of California Fact Sheets on Key Immigration Issues

As President Obama and Congress take up immigration reform, the ACLU urges policymakers to endorse and promote the following principles for any reform:

  • Immigration reform must create a welcoming roadmap to citizenship for aspiring Americans living and contributing to the U.S.  Fundamental fairness as guaranteed by the Constitution requires it. American history teaches the repugnant consequences of creating an “underclass of people living without the Constitution’s full protections. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution are offended when aspiring citizens—who are primarily from communities of color—face a lifetime of disadvantage and vulnerability.
    — Aspiring citizens are productive members of their communities who often live in mixed-status families with U.S. citizen relatives.
    — The roadmap to citizenship must be just and fair, without exclusions for minor crimes or past removal orders.
  • Immigration reform must not create a national ID system or include measures that harm fundamental privacy rights. Error-prone identification systems endanger the rights and livelihood of all Americans in the workplace and in civic life.
    — E-Verify is an internet-based system that contains identifying information on almost every American, and calls for its usage are thinly disguised to require a virtual permission slip from the government that all employees would need in order to work.
    — These verification regimes would rely on massive and inaccurate databases.
    — E-Verify will lead to discrimination against those perceived to look or sound “foreign,” in which employers would avoid hiring individuals they fear will be ensnared in the error-prone system.
    — E-Verify increases the risk of data breaches and identity theft by making personal information on every American more widely accessible.
  • Immigration reform must end state and local intrusions into immigration policy and enforcement, as well as ban racial profiling at all levels of government.
    — State and local involvement in immigration enforcement has led to racial discrimination in policing practices.
    — Federal immigration enforcement programs like Secure Communities (S-Comm) and 287(g) that involve state and local police should be terminated.
  • Immigration reform must address systemic due process problems with immigration detention and deportation.
    — We must end the unnecessary and unconstitutional overreliance on costly and inhumane immigration detention, which led to 429,000 people being detained administratively last year—almost twice as many as in the entire federal prison system!—at a wasteful cost of $2 billion.
    — No one should be in immigration detention without a constitutionally adequate bond hearing, where the government must prove that detention is necessary to protect against danger to the community or flight risk.
    — We must eliminate mandatory and disproportionate deportation laws that needlessly separate families by restoring discretion to consider the particulars in every individual’s case. We also  need to ensure that everyone has access to counsel in immigration proceedings.
  • Immigration reform must transform border enforcement, which has grown wastefully without regard to genuine public safety needs.
    — Immigration reform must end the abuses committed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection by creating accountability within CBP and establishing robust and independent external oversight.
    — Border cities boast an exceptional safety record and a 40-year low in migrant apprehensions.
  • Immigration reform must include the ability of committed and loving couples in same-sex relationships to sponsor his or her spouse or permanent partner in the same way opposite-sex couples have long been able to under current immigration law.
    — The discriminatory and unconstitutional so-called Defense of Marriage Act has caused these LGBT immigrant families to live in the shadows with the fear of separation and deportation for far too long. Family unity for all families is a critical component of any reform proposal.

The immigration reform bill has the potential to be a historic advance for the civil rights and liberties of immigrants and all Americans. Reform would allow millions of immigrants who contribute immeasurably to the vitality of this country to step forward on the road to citizenship.

While this legislation is certainly a breakthrough, it will have to be improved to address severe obstacles for many aspiring citizens. The roadmap to citizenship should not exclude people based on minor crimes or people who can’t afford hefty fines. The bill needlessly expands wasteful border spending at a time when border communities are safe, enforcement resources are at record levels, and prior benchmarks have been met. Furthermore, the mandate to use job-killing, costly and privacy-invasive employment verification (E-verify) raises significant civil liberties concerns.

The ACLU will fight every step of the way to ensure that immigration reform achieves citizenship and a fundamentally fair immigration system without harming anyone’s civil rights and liberties.