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Protect & Promote Equality

Upholding Immigrants’ Rights through the Courts

New York is home to one of the largest and most diverse immigrant populations in the United States. As threats to immigrants’ well-being and rights have increased in recent years, whether because of the cruel deportation agenda of the Trump administration or local anti-immigrant ordinances, New York has been especially impacted.

Throughout 2019, we continued the legal work we began in 2018 to defend immigrants in New York while also consulting in three other immigrants’ rights cases across the country. Highlights among our work include:

  • 2020 Census win: In a victory for voters and immigrants in June, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the Trump administration’s effort to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, agreeing that the administration’s stated reason for adding the question was “contrived.”Together with the ACLU, we challenged the administration’s action on behalf of immigrants’ rights groups. The fundamental purpose of the decennial census, as mandated by the Constitution, is the “actual enumeration of the people” — not just citizens, but everybody living in the United States. Inclusion of a citizenship question on the Census was a plan designed to undercount and underrepresent immigrant populations, which would ultimately have disastrous consequences in communities across the country. An inaccurate count would impact how vital federal resources are distributed, allowing lawmakers to inadvertently deny resources to communities with large immigrant populations for years. The Census count also determines how Congressional seats and Electoral College votes are allocated, thus influencing our state’s political power.
  • Fighting for the rights of Long Island teenagers: In June, we filed a lawsuit to compel the federal government to produce records relating to grants that the U.S. Department of Justice has awarded to several counties since 2018, including a $1.2 million grant to Suffolk County. The grants are supposedly for local law enforcement to implement programs aimed at preventing gang violence, but instead they have been used to encourage the arrest, detention, and deportation of unaccompanied immigrant children in Suffolk County based on vague allegations of gang involvement.Using local police’s often unsubstantiated information, ICE has designated dozens of immigrant teens from Long Island, and hundreds more from around the nation, as “gang associates” and held them in prolonged detention — sometimes thousands of miles from home. This profiling campaign, entitled Operation Matador has been subject to widespread criticism, and we continue our litigation to end this hostile campaign and bring these children home.
  • Protecting refugee families and children: In anticipation of the Trump administration’s threatened mass arrest of thousands of families and children, we partnered with the ACLU of Southern California to file a lawsuit in July to protect refugee families and children. Most of these refugees fled widespread violence perpetuated by their governments or vicious gangs in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and other countries. For many, obtaining asylum in the U.S. could be a matter of life and death.The government asserts the power to deport these refugees without any hearing because they failed to appear in immigration court. But massive bureaucratic errors and, in some cases, deliberate misdirection by immigration enforcement agencies caused missed court dates. For instance, refugees’ notices to appear in court were sent to incorrect addresses, sent after hearing dates had already passed, issued for dates when courts were not in session, and in some cases, for court dates that literally did not exist, such as weekends and September 31. The agencies’ flagrant and widespread errors made it impossible for these families and children to know when their hearings were being held, but the constitution requires that they have a fair day in court.

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The Trump administration’s actions against immigrants are fundamentally at odds with what this nation stands for. The NYCLU is determined to protect immigrants, especially those who have fled violence in their home countries, from brutal assaults here in ours. Read about an early win in our lawsuit with the Bronx Defenders to fight for the rights of detained immigrants in New York in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.