BlueWaveNJ Hosts the ACLU
Call the ACLU! That’s exactly what the BlueWaveNJ Civil and Constitutional Rights Committee did when it wanted to hear from the experts about civil liberties threats in the age of Trump, and what BlueWaveNJ, the ACLU, and all of us can do about it.
On Thursday evening, the Committee hosted Ed Barocas, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey, at the First Congregational Church in Montclair for a rundown of these threats and our rights. Barocas began by reminding us that during times of war or other crises, America has had a bad habit of taking actions we look back on with regret – actions that are wrong both morally and legally, that are un-American. Think Palmer Raids, Japanese Internment, FBI spying on civil rights leaders and infiltrating Viet Nam War protesters, the Patriot Act.
Many (though certainly not all) of this administration’s un-American assaults have centered on immigration, to which Barocas gave much of his focus. He discussed Muslim Ban 1 and Muslim Ban 2, both which violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by singling out religious groups for different treatment. Barocas told the stories of people stopped in airports, rescued by the actions of the ACLU and others who acted on a moment’s notice to untangle the legal quagmires. In fact, it was the national ACLU that blocked part of the first ban in a speedily filed lawsuit.
But immigration challenges aren’t just about the government’s effort to keep certain people from coming in to our country; there are also increasing efforts to kick others out. With an uptick in ICE raids, detention and deportation efforts, municipalities are taking a stand by passing Fair & Welcoming ordinances, which assert they won’t participate in voluntary agreements with the federal government to deputize local police as immigration agents. These agreements result in an erosion of trust between communities and law enforcement, and often discourage immigrants from reporting crimes. Montclair’s recent enactment has been roundly criticized as insufficient, and Blue Wave’s Immigration Committee will be looking to strengthen it. Barocas said the ACLU-NJ is there to assist with efforts to lobby municipalities to strengthen these policies.
The presentation was capped off with some good news – finally! It turns out that NJ has some of the strongest free speech protections in the country. Our state Constitution provides an affirmative right to free speech, contrasting with others and the federal Constitution, which stop at saying the government can’t take away free speech rights. This has allowed the ACLU-NJ to take aggressive stands in the protection of speech rights.
These are troubling times, and comments from the audience reflected that. People voiced concern about families being torn apart, and about refugees seeking asylum. But while we find ourselves once again in a time when America is acting un-American, Barocas takes solace in the resolve of the resistance that has emerged – a resolve he said he hasn’t seen in his entire legal career.
And he was sure to remind us: While you’re on the ground resisting within your rights, if you get stopped, what should you do? You guessed it. Call the ACLU.