The constitution is a small document (it fits in my pocket) but it has broad impact: the wide range of issues the ACLU works on demonstrates as much. At our recent student conference in Belfast, we taught students about the constitutional basis for one facet of the ACLU’s work—immigrants’ rights.
The 14th Amendment was the first time people born or naturalized in the U.S. were legally codified as U.S. citizens. While it starts by defining citizen, the language then moves on to say that no state shall, “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law” (emphasis mine). Equal protection and due process apply to non-citizens, too.
The 1886 Supreme Court case Yick Wo v. Hopkins challenged a city ordinance, administered discriminatorily, that made it difficult for Chinese laundry owners to get or renew their operating licenses. The court ruled unanimously: despite their non-citizen status, Chinese laundry owners still deserved equal protection.
That’s why, in this country, no one has to open the door to law enforcement without probable cause and a warrant—even if a person is not a U.S. citizen. It’s almost like a constitutional enumeration of the golden rule. Even for non-citizens, warrantless intrusion into private homes, torture, and indefinite detention are unconstitutional. To me, it makes sense to treat all people with the same legal respect I would want to be treated with.
In what I think fits into the same “do unto others” vein, the ACLU is calling on the Department of Justice to not exempt immigration centers from the Prison Rape Elimination Act. A New York Times editorial supported the ACLU and noted that the federal law, “sets standards for detecting and preventing sexual abuse of people in custody.” You can add your voice to those calling to have the Prison Rape Elimination Act be binding on all immigration detention facilities by clicking here. As a U.S. citizen, I want to prevent sexual abuse and make sure proper avenues exist for reporting such abuse. Why wouldn’t I want that for immigrants, too?