Immigrants Rights

Two Supreme Court Justices Critical of State Initiatives

February 20, 2010

State Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno expressed concern that fundamental rights can be changed by a simple majority vote through California's initiative process. Moreno was part of the four justice majority that in May 2008 struck down California laws banning same-sex marriages. Six months later, 52% of voters passed Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages. Moreno was the sole dissenter when the court upheld Proposition 8 in May 2009. In his dissent, he wrote that the court's decision "places at risk the state constitutional rights of all disfavored minorities." 

In a recent interview, he commented that voters can be misinformed by initiative campaigns, and that the initiative process, unlike the deliberative legislative process, does not benefit from review by fact-finding committees.

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Within days, Chief Justice Ronald George, in a speech at Stanford Law School, was highly critical of California's initiative process. He suggested reforms, such as prohibiting changes to the constitution through initiatives.

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The initiative process has been significant in shaping and misshaping civil liberties in California. It began as a progressive tool in 1911 to ensure that legislators controlled by the railroads and big business would not block laws benefitting the majority of Californians. The first initiatives granted women the right to vote, established a limit on working hours for women and children, and set a minimum wage.

But inititatives have been used more often to deny rights. In 1920, voters approved three to one the "Alien Land Law" initiative, prohibiting Japanese immigrants from leasing land. Proposition 14 passed by a margin of two to one in 1964. That initiative amended the state constitution to rescind existing fair housing laws and prohibited the legislature from passing future laws to prevent racial discrimination in housing. In 1967, the United States Supreme Court struck down the proposition as a violation of the federal constitution.  In 1994, voters approved Proposition 187, which required state programs, including public schools and public health services, to deny aid to undocumented immigrants.  A court injunction prevented the law from going into effect.  And in 1996, the passage of Proposition 209 outlawed affirmative action in state programs.

Within a week, state supreme court Chief Justice Ronald George and Associate Justice Carlos Moreno expressed concerns about California's initiative system.

Elaine and Stan on KPIX's "Bay Sunday"

June 12, 2011

Watch an appearance by Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi on KPIX's "Bay Sunday" program with host Sydnie Kohara.


Immigrants Faced Deportation for Political Activity

Italian immigrant Dom Sallitto faced deportation threats and denial of naturalization because in the 1930s he and a business partner rented space to the editor of a magazine the federal government found objectionable


Former Braceros Demand Payments Owed Them

February 4, 2011

A group of elderly men, their relatives, and supporters protested outside the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles on February 3 to demand payment of wages held from the men when they were guest workers in the U.S. government's bracero program between 1942-1964.

Under the Bracero Treaty negotiated between the United States and Mexico, 10% of workers' gross wages would be deducted and put into a "savings" fund that they could claim upon their return to Mexico.

Many of the braceros were not told why this money was deducted from their paychecks or how to claim the money in Mexico. 

Decades after the bracero program ended, a Mexican government commission revealed that most of the braceros had never been paid the 10% "savings" that had been taken from their wages years earlier.

In 2002, a group of former braceros filed a federal class action lawsuit seeking payment of the funds due to them.

In 2008, the Mexican government agreed to a one-time payment of $3,500 to each bracero who could prove participation in the program. But many of the former laborers still have not been paid.

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The bracero program was part of a long history of importing Mexican laborers into the United States. During World War I, the U.S. government helped fill a labor shortage by facilitating the importation of Mexican workers for back-breaking work on farms and ranches, many in California.

After the war, the Associated Farmers, a conservative trade organization of commercial growers, contintued to recruit Mexican laborers, assuming that since they were barred from joining the all-white AFL unions, they would be a tractable labor force.

But with the onset of the Great Depression, the federal government led a massive effort to scapegoat and deport Mexicans, with no distinction made for their legal status. The government forced more than 1 million people--an estimated 60 percent of them U.S. citizens--over the border.

The tide shifted, however, when America entered World War II and faced an acute labor shortage. In 1942, the U.S. government began negotiations with Mexico to bring workers from the impoverished Mexican countryside to work in U.S. agriculture and railroads.

The subsequent bracero program lasted until 1964. 


Elders ask Mexican government to pay them money they earned decades earlier when they were guest workers in the U.S.

San Diego Sued for Destroying Property of Homeless People

December 2, 2009

The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties sued the city of San Diego for intentionally destroying homeless people's property--including family photos and medication--while individuals sought services at a local church and homeless shelter. The suit alleges that during three incidents in September and October police and city environmental service workers threw the homeless people's possessions into a garbage truck, even after the owners, who saw what was occuring, tried to stop the destruction of their property.

In a similar case in Fresno, a federal judge in July 2008 approved a $2.35 million class action settlement for homeless residents of Fresno.  The judge had earlier ruled that the city of Fresno and the state Department of Transportation had violated the homeless residents' constitutional rights by seizing and destroying their property.

California has a long history of criminalizing poverty. In 1855, for example, the legislature passed the so-called "Greaser Law," which allowed for up to 90 days of hard labor for "the issue of Spanish and Indian blood . . .  who can give no good account of themselves." In 1936, Los Angeles police chief James Davis sent 135 LAPD officers to California's borders to turn back migrants who had no money or jobs.

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And in other news from San Diego, human rights activists protested the lack of adequate safety features in a portion of the All-American Canal where immigrants frequently cross into the U.S.  According to one of the activists, about 600 people have drowned in the canal since it was built more than 40 years ago. In late 1994, the federal government instituted "Operation Gatekeeper," a program to beef up the border control infrastructure near San Diego and to push the flow of immigrants further east to more isolated and dangerous areas.  A report issued in late September 2009 by Mexico's Human Rights Commission and the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties revealed that despite a 50% drop in the number of immigrants caught illegally entering the U.S. near the border with Mexico, the number of people who died while attempting to cross the border increased in 2009 to the highest level since 2006.  According to the report, since 1994, the rate of deaths along the 2,000 mile U.S-Mexico border has been one a day.

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The ACLU sued the city of San Diego for intentionally destroying the property of homeless people.

Apex Express

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October 24, 2009

Listen to KPFA's Apex Express – Asian Pacific Islander Expressions broadcast Stan Yogi reading excerpts from Wherever There's a Fight at a program at Berkeley's Eastwind Bookstore.


Governor Acts on Civil Liberties Bills

October 2, 2012

Facing a September 30 deadline to decide on proposed legislation, Governor Brown took action on several civil liberties-related bills impacting workers, immigrants, LGBT youth, clergy, and the criminal justice system.

Workers:  He vetoed a bill that would have provided labor protections like overtime pay and meal breaks for domestic workers.  He also vetoed proposals allowing farmworkers to sue employers who deprive them of water and shade.

Immigrants:  The governor vetoed a bill that would have prohibited local law enforcement agencies from detaining individuals for suspected immigration violations unless accused of a violent or serious crime. He approved legislation allowing undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children to obtain driver's licenses.

LGBT Youth: Governor Brown signed legislation prohibiting psychotherapists from discredited efforts designed to change a young person's sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Religion: He signed a bill clarifying that no clergy members would be forced to perform marriages that run contrary to their religous beliefs.

Criminal Justice:  The governor approved a bill allowing approximately 300 prisoners, issued life sentences as juveniles, the opportunity to appeal for shorter prison terms.

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In the final two days before a legislative deadline, Governor Brown signed and vetoed numerous bills impacting civil liberties

Hundreds of Immigrants Detained for Months in Southern California

May 20, 2010

More than 350 immigrants in Southern California fighting deportation have been held in detention for more than six months according to records released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials as part of a class action lawsuit.

The ACLU of Southern California sought the list of detainees in its efforts to secure hearings to determine whether immigrants held for six months or longer can be released from government custody while their cases are pending.

Many of the immigrants covered by the lawsuit are seeking political asylum, and some have been detained for years.

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During the early 20th century, federal officials detained thousands of Chinese immigrants in detention facilities (pictured here) on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.

Between 1910 and 1940, more than 500,000 immigrants from China, Japan, India, Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, and Russia passed through Angel Island. 

Because of rabid anti-Chinese sentiment, federal immigration laws, most notably the 1882 Chinese Exculsion Act, severely restricted immigration from China. Thousands of Chinese defied the exclusion laws. 

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake created an unusual opportunity for Chinese immigrants. The temblor and subsequent fire destroyed many government documents, including birth certificates. Since the children of U.S. citizens were exempt from exclusion, many Chinese immigrants took advantage of the destruction of official records to enter the U.S. using false documents and claiming that they were the children of U.S. citizens.

Immigration officers detained more than 100,000 Chinese immigrants on Angel Island, where they were subject to interrogations to determine whether they were trying to enter the country illegally. 

Many Chinese immigrants were held for weeks or months while they awaited and underwent rigorous questioning. Some of them carved and wrote poems onto walls of the detention center.

The immigration station was closed after a 1940 fire, and Angel Island became a state park. In 1970, Alexander Weiss, a park ranger, discovered the poems on the walls of the abandoned detention center. The discovery led to the preservation of the immigration station, which is now a national historic landmark.

ACLU of Southern California obtains names of more than 350 immigrants detained for six months or longer while they challenge deportation. Many are seeking asylum.

Equal Protection and the Yick Wo v. Hopkins Case

Through a careful reading of historical sources and through interpretation of context clues related to the landmark Yick Wo v. Hopkins lawsuit, students will understand that city and federal laws did not uniformly support or deny Chinese laborers' rights to equal protection under the law in the 19th century. Students will learn that a law may seem impartial in its language, but if it is enforced in a discriminatory manner, that is a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. This lesson can be implemented in units on Immigration or Reconstruction.

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Lack of Spanish-language Warning Results in Tragedy for Modesto Family

A Modesto couple's son could have been healthy had a bottle of children's aspirin included a Spanish-language warning of possible fatal consequences.

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