This update was first published by the National ACLU at aclu.org

This year hasn’t been easy: Thousands of families are still suffering the effects of family separation; the Muslim ban continues to keep loved ones apart; and whole generations of family trees are being decimated by an unfair, out-of-control mass incarceration machine. But beneath the headlines, the news alerts, and the legal battles are a few glimmers of hope that ACLU supporters made possible.

Here are some of our favorite moments from 2018.

Ansly Breathes Free Again

Ethics teacher Ansly Damus fled his native Haiti when an armed gang attacked him and threatened his life for criticizing government corruption in a seminar. He thought he’d find protection when he reached the U.S. and applied legally for asylum, but instead Immigration and Customs Enforcement locked him in jail for more than two years.

But outside of his windowless cell, a community of supporters advocated on his behalf, including a local couple who applied to sponsor him and helped him reach loved ones in Haiti by scanning and emailing his handwritten letters. One of the letters included a poem he wrote for his daughter:

If you believe in the power of a hand offered
If you think what brings men together is more important than what divides them
If you think that being different is a value and not a danger
If you know how to look at each other with a bit of love
If you know how to prefer hope to suspicion
Then, peace will come

After we fought ICE in court for over eight months and with two separate lawsuits, the agency finally released Ansly in November. Now he’ll await the results of his asylum application with fresh air, sunlight, and a community of supporters who never gave up on him. 

What #JusticeforJane Looks Like

Seventeen-year-old Jane Doe left her abusive parents and came to this country on her own, hoping to make a better life for herself and to one day become a nurse. She learned she was pregnant while she was in government custody, but the federal government tried to block her from obtaining the abortion she wanted — taking the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant and anti-woman agenda to a new low.

We sued and won, forcing the Trump administration to allow Jane to access abortion. She was released for government custody after she turned 18, and now she lives with a family member and continues to pursue her dreams — with her hard-fought reproductive freedom.

Alice’s First Christmas in 20 Years

Alice Marie Johnson had never committed a crime before, but that didn’t stop prosecutors from locking her in prison for life for a nonviolent offense. During the two decades she was behind bars, she became a grandmother to six children, some of whom she wasn’t able to meet face to face. “I missed all the Christmases and Thanksgivings,” she said.

We assembled a legal team to advocate for her release, and — with huge public support led by Mic and Kim Kardashian — pushed President Trump to commute her sentence in June. This is the first Christmas in over 20 years that Alice will spend with her family.

“I felt like I was flying,” said Alice when she finally saw her family again.

The Reunion of Ms. L and S.S.

Ms. L and her young daughter, S.S., traveled a long and dangerous journey from Congo to seek asylum in the U.S. But when they reached our border, ICE agents tore mother and child apart and sent them to government facilities thousands of miles away. For four months, their only contact was a handful of phone calls. S.S. had to celebrate her seventh birthday alone, not knowing whether she’d ever see her mother again.

After we sued ICE, the agency released Ms. L so she could reunite with her daughter. Now Ms. L and S.S. are living together while they await the results of their asylum application. S.S. has started school and begun to learn English, and she spends her time drawing pictures for her neighbors and making them laugh. There’s a long road ahead until they can settle and call this country home, but for now, they’re together — a gift they will never take for granted.

Lost and Found in Guatemala

When Border Patrol agents took 3-year-old Luna from her father, they locked her in a cage across from his, where he could see her crying and couldn't do anything to console her. They didn't know it was the last time they would see each other for nine months.

This fall, we traveled to Guatemala to find the parents the Trump administration had lost because of its cruel family separation policy — parents who were deported without their children and cut off from all contact. Ricardo and Luna were one of the families we reunited.

“When I saw her, I felt my soul ache,” said Ricardo. “Finally, we stopped suffering.” Not all families will be as lucky as Ricardo and Luna, but their reunion gave us hope that one day, every separated family will find the same joy.

In many cases the fight will continue well into 2019. But it’s worth remembering these stories of real people whose lives changed for the better this year because of the generosity of ACLU members.

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