San Diego ACLU Recognized for Defending Immigrant Rights
San Diego — In recognition of the San Diego ACLU’s dedication to protecting the rights of immigrants, the Consulate General of Mexico in San Diego will present the local ACLU executive director, Kevin Keenan, with the consulate’s first ever Human Rights Award. Keenan will accept the award at a special reception this evening to commemorate the anniversary of Mexican Independence.
Defending the rights of immigrants has been a top priority for Keenan and the entire San Diego ACLU staff. The Constitution protects all persons—not just citizens—from discrimination and unreasonable searches, and guarantees their right to equal protection and due process under the law.
When Keenan became executive director in 2005, the San Diego ACLU had already begun to react to a resurgence of anti-immigrant activity. To rein in the so-called “minutemen”, volunteers–many of them armed–who stationed themselves first at the border and later at day labor sites and threatened to take the law into their own hands, the San Diego chapters of the ACLU, La Raza Lawyers Association, the National Lawyers’ Guild, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association created a Legal Observer Coalition to document the activities of the anti-immigrant vigilantes and ensure that no one’s civil or human rights were violated. In subsequent years, local, state, and federal governments became the greater threat to the rights of immigrants.
In 2006, the San Diego ACLU and its allies defeated efforts by the Escondido City Council to force landlords to check the immigration status of tenants. The organizations then successfully pushed legislation barring any municipality in California from adopting such a law.
In 2007, the San Diego ACLU played a lead role in monitoring and documenting the mistreatment of immigrants, people of color, and others during the October wildfires. The San Diego ACLU and allies released a report entitled “Firestorm: Treatment of Vulnerable Populations During the San Diego Fires” and led a successful coalition effort to pass a California law to prevent emergency services from being denied based on unnecessary requests for identification. The San Diego ACLU has since developed training and materials about people’s rights during a natural disaster, which it hopes will prevent future wrongdoing.
In 2009, on the tenth anniversary of Operation Gatekeeper, the San Diego ACLU and Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) released a seminal report documenting the staggering number of border crossing deaths and other harms that have resulted from the U.S.’s failed border policy.
Also in 2009, with the American Friends Service Committee, the San Diego ACLU won the return home of three schoolchildren who were on their way to school when they were swept up in an immigration raid on passengers at the Old Town Trolley Station and summarily expelled to Mexico.
The San Diego ACLU has led and participated in groundbreaking litigation on behalf of immigrants, notably: successful lawsuits to end overcrowding and inadequate medical care at the large Otay Mesa detention center run by the Corrections Corporation of America; ongoing litigation seeking to secure the right of mentally ill immigrant detainees to have an attorney or other representative assist them; recurring challenges to the prolonged detention without hearing of asylum seekers; and ongoing litigation against the state of California for failing to enforce regulations that protect farmworkers from injury and death due to excessive heat exposure.
Currently, the San Diego ACLU is playing a lead role in fighting continuing abuses by the police and city of Escondido, abuses by ICE and Border Patrol, and the spread of local governments adopting the federal government’s flawed E-Verify program.
“It is a special honor to receive this award recognizing my small role in the long history of the San Diego ACLU’s protection of immigrants’ rights,” said Keenan. “It is really a recognition of our entire current staff, many former staff members, and the many allies and community members with whom we partner and without whom we could not be effective.”