ACLU, Advocates Want Next President to Upend Anti-Immigration Policies

Rewire spoke to the executive directors of two immigrant rights organizations about the issues they believe the next president should focus on.

If the next president doesn't end family detention, "and if we continue on this path, it will be a mark on our country’s history," said Grassroots Leadership Executive Director Bob Libal. Win McNamee / Getty Images

During Wednesday night’s presidential debate, Republican nominee Donald Trump reiterated his campaign promise of building a wall and increasing security along the southern border with the intention of stopping drugs from entering the United States and getting all the “drug lords, all of the bad ones”presumably Mexican immigrants—out of the country.

“And once the border is secured, at a later date, we’ll make a determination as to the rest. But we have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out,” Trump said on Wednesday night.

In July, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released “The Trump Memos,” a constitutional analysis of Trump’s public statements and policy proposals. The organization asserted that Trump’s immigration proposals—including a ban on Muslims from the United States, a “deportation force,” and a wall the length of the United States-Mexico border—“would most likely violate the Constitution, federal statutory law, and/or international law.”

The ACLU also has concerns about the immigration proposals of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who did not delve into the major pillars of her plan during Wednesday night’s debate. Last week, the ACLU released “The Clinton Memos,” detailing a series of policies and reforms Clinton should make should she be elected president. These changes, the ACLU wrote, would make concrete her commitments toward immigrants and civil rights.

Rewire spoke to the executive directors of two immigrant rights organizations about the policies they believe the next president should focus on. In one instance, advocates mentioned a proposal that wasn’t featured in the ACLU report and doesn’t appear to be on the radar of either candidate.

Immigrants’ rights advocates, who have heavily criticized President Barack Obama for his “sophisticated and well-funded human-expulsion machine,” are demanding the next administration not maintain the status quo. “If Hillary Clinton breaks out of this mold, she can make her mark in the history books as the president who broke the impasse on immigration reform and restored fairness and due process to our immigration system,” wrote the ACLU.

Specifically, the ACLU suggests that if Clinton is elected, she end the practice of family detention, end immigration raids on asylum seekers, guarantee the due process rights of asylum seekers, end the Obama administration’s policy of denying judicial review to asylum seekers, guarantee counsel to asylum seekers, commit to ensuring every child has counsel during an immigration hearing, and end the use of private prison corporations for immigrant detention.

That won’t be easy. Much of the recommendations from advocates and the ACLU will require dismantling large, long-established portions of the existing immigration system.

“The 1996 Laws Must Be Repealed”

Like the Movement for Black Lives and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) wants to see the next president repeal the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the ACLU has noted on its website. Neither candidate has expressed any interest in re-evaluating these laws, known together as “the 1996 laws.”

DRUM Executive Director Fahd Ahmed told Rewire that many of the current immigration policies “devastating” undocumented communities stem from the 1996 laws.

“[These laws] are the fundamental cause of the mass incarceration of immigrants, of the mass deportations of immigrants, and the nexus of immigration, policing, and courts. The 1996 laws must be repealed,” Ahmed said.

While immigration has been a primary topic on the campaign trail, the subject was only mentioned during the third and final debate and even then, it was given less than eight minutes. When speaking to Rewire before the debate, DRUM’s executive director said he would have liked for the candidates to be asked where they stand on the current immigration policies and what each candidate would do instead. He also issued a recommendation. “I’d recommend changing U.S. foreign policies—both economic and militaryto help put an end to the destruction that forces people to leave their homes and migrate in the first place,” Ahmed said.

“Stop the Totally Egregious Detention of Children and Their Moms”

The ACLU’s top recommendation for Clinton is that she end family detention, the practice of detaining asylum-seeking mothers and children as young as two months old in prisonlike conditions with the express goal of deporting them as quickly as possible. These new immigration jails—or “family detention centers,” as they’re known—were shut down by the Obama administration in 2009 and then brought back in 2014 in direct response to the wave of Central Americans who arrived at the United States-Mexico border seeking asylum.

Texas is home to two of the nation’s three remaining family detention centers, and the organization Grassroots Leadership is currently embroiled in a legal battle over state efforts to license these detention centers as child-care facilities under lowered standards. Grassroots Leadership Executive Director Bob Libal told Rewire that detention is harmful to everyone, but there is plenty of evidence that it has a “tremendous negative impact” on the mental health and overall well-being of children.

“The next president and advocates have a lot of work to do to roll back this massive detention regime that has been built up over the last 20 years,” Libal said. “I think most people recognize that a good very first place to start is to stop the totally egregious detention of children and their moms.”

According to the ACLU, in 2014 and 2015 Clinton supported the Obama administration’s approach of deporting Central American asylum seekers, essentially dismissing “basic due process principles and international human rights norms.” Now, one of Clinton’s primary immigration promises is to end the practice of family detention, which she didn’t mention at the final debate.

Before that debate, Libal told Rewire that advocacy organizations like Grassroots Leadership wanted to hear both candidates go on record about their views on family detention, in particular, because it has been such a major part of Clinton’s immigration platform.

“I think it could have a big impact,” Libal said. “There are a lot of people who still don’t know about family detention and that the average age of children in these prisonlike facilities is 6 years old. We’re talking about really young children. Family detention, I think, has become representative of our entire broken [immigration] system. If we want to know what candidates are going to do about immigration enforcement broadly, a good place to start would be what they plan to do about the mass detention of kids and their moms who are seeking asylum in the United States.”

The ACLU also recommended that Clinton move to ensure the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stop contracting with private prison companies. However, DHS is currently in the midst of deciding whether it will continue contracting with private prison companies like Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the two largest private prison companies that run a bulk of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) detention centers. Both companies are notorious for in-custody deaths and allegations of human rights abuses in their facilities. While a committee has been working to compile a report for DHS , another DHS committee—the Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centersquietly released on October 3 its recommendations regarding family detention. The report reads, in part:

DHS’s immigration enforcement practices should operationalize the presumption that detention is generally neither appropriate nor necessary for families—and that detention or the separation of families for purposes of immigration enforcement or management, or detention is never in the best interest of children. DHS should discontinue the general use of family detention, reserving it for rare cases when necessary following an individualized assessment of the need to detain because of danger or flight risk that cannot be mitigated by conditions of release.

Eighteen days later, CCA announced that ICE extended its contract to run the South Texas Family Residential Center, a family detention center based in Dilley, Texas, despite claims of medical neglect and sexual abuse allegations from children.

“This recommendation to end family detention was just issued by DHS’ own committee, but you have ICE renewing contracts for family detention centers despite the recommendation. It’s just so egregious,” Libal said.

With just three weeks left before Election Day, voters have a short window to decide on the next president. The winner will have “the power to end family detention,” explained Libal. And, despite Trump’s claims that “illegal immigrants are voting all over the country,” it is American citizens who will dictate the conditions undocumented immigrants will find themselves living under, for at least the next four years.

If the next president doesn’t end family detention, “and if we continue on this path, it will be a mark on our country’s history,” said Libal.