ACLU spokesperson speaks on immigration


The word “immigration” has become synonymous with illegal immigration, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Field Director Mary Bejian told a small crowd in Jamrich 103 on Tuesday. However, there are plenty of immigrants who come to the U.S. legally, she said.

“These are extremely complicated issues,” Bejian said. “That’s why we have a whole government department dealing with immigration.”

Bejian spoke Nov. 13 as a part of Latin Culture Week. Her visit was sponsored by NMU’s Latin-American Student Organization.

Though immigration laws have been in place for years, she said 9/11 was a turning point for American’s rights.

She cited the passing of the Patriot Act and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, which now controls Immigration and Customs Enforcement as examples of the turning point.

The Patriot Act allows the government to see who is checking out what books from a public library, to utilize wire taps without authorization from a judge and to deny entry to the country based on a person’s political views.

Though the ACLU is most known for its work in litigation, the group always uses the court system as a last resort, Bejian said, adding that they would rather not sue communities.

However, some situations have no other solution, she said.

Bejian outlined several immigration cases the ACLU was involved in, but focused mostly on Hazelton, Penn.

In July 2006, Hazelton became the first city in the United States to pass an anti-immigration ordinance, she said.

The ordinance punished landlords and employers who did business with illegal immigrants and required any government documents to be provided in English only.

However, in July 2007, the ACLU was able to strike down the ordinance by arguing in court that it was unconstitutional.

While this one case was a victory for the ACLU, over 60 localities in 29 states are trying to pass similar ordinances, Bejian said, adding that at least 40 of them have passed.

Escondido, Calif. was one of the cities that passed an immigration ordinance. Its law states that any landlord who rents to an illegal immigrant can face up to $1,000 per day in fines as well as up to six months in jail.

This type of law opens up the possibility of profiling, Bejian said.

“People will start saying who is an immigrant based on what they look like, or do they speak English with an accent?” she said.