Immigrants' Rights

  • September 1, 2011
    Guest Post

    This post is part of an ACSblog symposium in honor of the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. The author, Lucas Guttentag, teaches at Yale Law School, where he is Robina Foundation Distinguished Senior Fellow and Senior Research Scholar.  He also serves as senior counsel to the Immigrants’ Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, and was the project’s founding director until 2011.  


    More than fifty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. heroically battled segregation and built a coalition of conscience to change our society and its laws. Today, a new struggle is being fought in many of the same places. Arizona, which famously refused to recognize Martin Luther King Day as a holiday, and Alabama, home of the Selma march and Dr. King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” today defend the most punitive anti-immigrant state laws in the country. 

    Under the banner of regulating immigration, these laws would institute a new system of discrimination.  They would encourage – if not compel – racial and ethnic profiling, prohibit offering transportation and housing to undocumented immigrants, impose state punishment for immigration-registration violations, and – under the Alabama law – require  schools to conduct immigration checks on students and their parents in a transparent attempt to deny children their constitutional right to public education. This virtual barricading of Alabama’s public schools by state officials is a grim reminder of earlier refusals to provide equal education for all.

    It is telling – and deserves high praise – that the Obama Justice Department has joined Alabama’s religious leaders and a coalition of civil rights groups in suing to stop the Alabama law as it did the earlier Arizona SB1070 statute.

    To be sure, immigration is a complex subject. But falling prey to superficial responses that exacerbate discrimination, target all who look or sound “foreign,” and cater to those who fear changing demographics or new immigrants is not the answer. Though sadly, it is nothing new and as much a part of our history as the glorious Statue of Liberty. For example, earlier hostility against Chinese immigrants in California led to racist state and local laws, including the infamous San Francisco anti-Chinese laundry ordinance that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1886.

    But easily overlooked in the current controversy over state anti-immigrant laws is the even more fundamental fact that federal immigration laws and practices routinely deny basic constitutional protections to non-citizens in a system of mass arrest, detention and deportation. 

  • August 26, 2011
    Guest Post

    This post is part of an ACSblog symposium in honor of the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. The author, Ali Noorani, is executive director of the National Immigration Forum.


    On September 22, 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sent a telegram to Cesar Chavez, leader of the United Farm Workers (UFW).

    For Dr. King, it was the height of the civil rights movement and a month before his death. For Chavez, it was the ascendancy of the UFW as they fought to secure collective bargaining agreements for farm workers in the grape fields of California.

    The telegram read:

    As brothers in the fight for equality, I extend the hand of fellowship and good will and wish continuing success to you and your members. The fight for equality must be fought on many fronts – in the urban slums, in the sweat shops of the factories and fields. Our separate struggles are really one – a struggle for freedom, for dignity, and for humanity. You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized.

    Dr. King’s lessons ring true to this day as all of us continue to fight for equality. 

    The immigration movement’s path to justice requires hands of fellowship from the most unlikely of places. For the rights of immigrants, powerful hands of fellowship have come from conservative Christian leaders and law enforcement. 

  • June 14, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Martha F. Davis, Associate Dean for Clinical and Experiential Education and Faculty Director of the Program on Human Rights and Global Economy, Northeastern University School of Law. Davis filed an amicus brief in Flores-Villar v. United States on behalf of Equality NOW, Human Rights Watch and other groups.


    There must be a good story behind the single sentence that the Supreme Court issued as its “opinion” in Flores-Villar v. U.S yesterday. A full seven months after the oral argument in the case, after reviewing hundreds of pages of briefs on the merits, on the surrounding historical issues, on relevant international and human rights law, on remedial questions, the Court opined that “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

    Unfortunately, it will likely be decades before we learn the back story, when the Library of Congress opens the archives of one of the currently sitting Justices. Then, we’ll learn if it was Justice Kennedy or someone else who joined the dependable group of Justices Breyer, Ginsburg and Sotomayor to strike down the deeply discriminatory citizenship law, creating the even split on the Court. Then, years from now, we’ll find out whether the 4-4- split was just an expedient compromise mandated by the impending end of the term, when the Justices simply couldn’t reconcile competing concerns about deference to Congress, the Court’s remedial power, and even issues of standing. We’ll find out how many opinions were drafted and what the decision might have been if, for example, Justice Kagan hadn’t recused herself from the deliberations.

    Because the Court could muster only a single sentence, historians – not journalists and law professors -- will be the ones who tell the story of Flores-Villar v. U.S.

    One historian, Professor Linda Kerber of the University of Iowa, is ready.

  • June 13, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Sandra S. Park, Staff Attorney, ACLU Women's Rights Project. Ms. Park was counsel on the ACLU's amicus brief in Flores-Villar v. United States.


    Today, an evenly split Supreme Court allowed a nationality law that makes it more difficult for fathers to transmit U.S. citizenship to their children than mothers. The order in Flores-Villar v. United States was 4-4 (Justice Elena Kagan recused herself due to her participation in the case as Solicitor General), and has limited precedential value. The Court did not tackle the central issue of whether the law – one of the few that explicitly discriminates based on gender – is constitutional.  The ACLU filed an amicus brief arguing that the law could not survive.

    The law, originally enacted in 1940, imposes more onerous residency requirements on unmarried U.S. citizen fathers – as compared to mothers – who seek to pass U.S. citizenship on to their children. If the child’s mother is a U.S. citizen, the child will automatically be a U.S. citizen at birth, so long as the mother previously had lived in the U.S. for one year, at any age. However, if only the child’s father is a U.S. citizen, the law mandates that the father must legally acknowledge his child and have resided in the U.S. for at least five years after the age of 14. 

    The facts of Flores-Villar v. United States illustrate how such disparate requirements unjustly discriminate against fathers based on the stereotype that mothers, not fathers, care for their children.

  • May 27, 2011

    A bill being pushed by Rep. Lamar Smith that would give the federal government greater power to detain immigrants for much longer periods of time is not only constitutionally suspect, but poor public policy, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Ahilan Arulanantham tells ACSblog.

    Arulanantham, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, chatted with ACSblog about Smith’s bill, H.R. 1932, following his appearance earlier this week before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement to present testimony on the measure.

    “The bill would vastly expand the federal government’s ability to detain noncitizens – for months, sometimes years, while their cases are pending in the immigration courts and then on review in the federal courts,” Arulanantham told ACSblog. “And those portions of the bill actually apply to people who have never been convicted of crimes. As it turns out, about half of the people in the nation’s immigration centers have no criminal convictions at all.”

    The measure, he continued, would also allow indefinite, possibly permanent detention, of certain noncitizens who can’t be deported to their countries.

    Apart from the measure’s serious affronts to the Constitution, Arulanantham said it amounts to “extremely bad policy.” He noted that it costs tens of thousands of dollars per detainee, per year to imprison people in immigration detention facilities. The vast majority of those being detained have no criminal records, pose no risk of flight and yet this measure, if enacted, would drain resources from an already strapped federal government.

    Watch Arulanantham’s entire interview below, or download the podcast here. His testimony before the subcommittee is available here