Here are the Latinx Folks at the ACLU Defending All of Our Civil Liberties

The nearly century-old American Civil Liberties Union has received a lot of mainstream media attention since the start of President Donald Trump's term.

Even before he took office, the ACLU, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that defends and preserves “the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States,” established a seven-point plan of action to take on the Trump administration. It includes protecting the rights of immigrants, defending reproductive, LGBTQ and civil rights as well as demanding government accountability and mobilizing the American people.

MORE: Latino Political Leaders Are Drafting a Plan to Counter Donald Trump's Immigration Agenda

They haven’t disappointed. In Trump’s first week in the White House, the Puerto Rican executive director of the ACLU, Anthony Romero, challenged the administration’s Muslim ban in court and won, with Federal District Court Judge Ann M. Donnelly issuing a stay that temporarily blocked the discriminatory policy. More recently, following Trump's flip-floppy decision to rescind federal guidelines allowing transgender students to use public school bathrooms matching their gender identity, the ACLU said they're prepared to take school districts that undo protections for trans students to court.

We talked with some of the Latinxs behind the ACLU about their fight to defend civil liberties for all, particularly over the next four years.

1. Anthony Romero, Executive Director at the ACLU, Puerto Rican

Tell me about your work as the executive director of the ACLU.

My job is to be the conductor of this great big orchestra, and helping set the priorities, making sure that we execute on them, that we hire the right staff, that we get the press and public engagement on these issues, and really help lead the charge on the efforts to hold back the worst of the Trump administration’s policies.

What inspired you to get involved?

It goes back to when I was in college. I was always an activist. I always thought that part of my job would be to try to open doors of opportunity to other people and make a difference to the communities I cared about. And public service is a privilege. The work that we do, coming to the aid of individuals who are suffering injustice, for me, working to make our democracy more just, it’s really an enormous privilege. 

What's one of the biggest obstacles you find in this position?

I think the biggest obstacle is fatalism, when people shrug their shoulders and don’t feel that anyone can make a difference. Even in the face of enormous challanges and the power of the U.S. federal government now in the hands of the Trump administration, we have to find a way to give people a sense of purpose, a sense of optimism, a sense that fighting matters and that these values we are fighting for are too important to just leave to someone else to worry about. 

How is your work particularly important under this new administration?

I think it’s clear the policies of the Trump administration are hostile to the rights of immigrants, women, people of color and disenfranchised communities, so our job is to help serve as a bulwark against government abuse and violations of human rights in the U.S., so it is in times of crisis that our work becomes most critical and most stark. 

2. Anna Núñez, Communications Coordinator at ACLU Texas, Mexican

Tell me about your position as the communications coordinator at ACLU Texas.

I handle all of the statewide media for Texas, which is 20 media markets, but when anything affects the national level, then I also take national inquiries as well. I also manage the speaker requests, which we’ve been inundated with since the election and after the travel ban.

What's one of the biggest obstacles you find in this work?

Not enough time. There’s just so much work to do, and that’s the honest truth. We are working at warped speed to try to handle everyone’s requests for help. 

What has been one of your biggest triumphs?

It’s been such an honor to work for such a great organization, but I have to say, speaking personally, as the daughter of an undocumented immigrant, it was when we filed a lawsuit against border abuses. We were able to represent an older woman passing the border who agents accused of having drugs. They took her to the hospital on the border and forced her to get a vaginal search and illegal rectal search, without a warrant and against her will. We represented this woman and had an unprecedented win against the border patrol.

How is your work particularly important under this new administration?

During an anti-Trump protest, 34 journalists were arrested and some were charged with felonies. This is a frightening time, not just for the community but for journalists, too. So this is an opportunity for me, in my capacity, in communications, to work with the community and media to better able disseminate our message and help people understand their rights.

3. Alessandra Soler, Executive Director at ACLU Arizona, Brazilian-Argentine

Tell me about your position as the executive director of ACLU Arizona.

Well, as executive director, I’m in the leadership. I supervise a staff of 12 people and work with a board of 25. I am responsible for leading strategic priority issues, and one of the things I prioritized over last 10 years is building our capacity here in Arizona, so we are in a better position to fight back to threats to civil liberties. 

What's one of the biggest obstacles you find in this work?

We work in a conservative state, so I think the challenge has been fighting back against anti-immigrant measures and convincing the public that these policies hurt all of us. So it’s not just about influencing the court, but also influencing the court of public opinion.

What has been one of your biggest triumphs?

Our win against Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The ACLU brought a lawsuit in 2007 and we were finally able to convince the public that he needed to go, that he was someone who was not looking out for the best interest of the community. Also, through that, we were able to defend the rights of Latinos who had been victims of his racial profiling. 

How is your work particularly important under this new administration?

The current administration is against everything I stand for. I spent my life fighting for immigrant’s rights, women's rights and equality and justice for everyone, and that’s on the line here. I have a moral obligation to fight back. But it’s also very personal when I think of people like my mom and dad, who came here in 1965, worked hard, became citizens and raised three kids who are now contributing members of society.

4. Astrid Dominguez, Policy Strategist at ACLU Texas, Mexican

Tell me about your position as a policy strategist for ACLU of Texas.

My work is on immigrant rights, which means that I am working on those immigrant issues that affect the community in Texas, locally and across the state. We also do a lot of work with border communities that don’t often get described as immigrant communities but get impacted by those policies. As for the enforcement piece, I look at how the policies are implemented at the state or federal level, and its impact on local communities. 

What's one of the biggest obstacles you find in this work?

After the election, when we woke up to the prospect of a Trump administration, in Texas, we were like, we are already there. It’s become a very conservative, anti-immigrant state, making it hard for immigrants to lead and be a part of the community. It has created this insecurity, this state of anxiety, and that’s a major challenge for us because immigrants have rights regardless of their status and folks feel like they don’t have them anymore.

What has been one of your biggest triumphs?

I have a few, but here are two: In 2013, we were able to stop the construction of a private prison in McAllen, Texas. The community came together beautifully to speak against it. People from different sides of the aisle said, we want jobs, but not these jobs. Another major win has been empowering vulnerable communities. We have organizers who provide different communities with tools to advocate for themselves so that, even if we leave, they know how to do the work and they know how a democracy works.

How is your work particularly important under this new administration?

I think under this new administration my work is probably more relevant than ever. Texas was already there, already facing these gigantic challenges, but now those people that have this anti-immigrant rhetoric feel more involved, they have the federal government supporting them. At the ACLU, we’ve been fighting for years, but now we have to be even more present than before. 

5. Andre Segura, ACLU National Immigration Attorney, Colombian

Tell me about your work as a national immigration attorney for the ACLU.

I have been at the ACLU for almost 10 years and have focused on law enforcement abuses by primarily federal immigration agents and local police. The Immigrant’s Rights Project at the ACLU defends the constitutional rights of immigrants and those impacted by anti-immigrant polices. We work to expand the rights of everyone here. 

What's one of the biggest obstacles you find in this work? 

One of the difficult things to convey is that all people here in this country, with or without papers, have constitutional rights. It’s a constant challenge for us to stand up for those rights because of the variety of different ways those rights are under attack.

What has been one of your biggest triumphs?

For me, personally and professionally, I would say our case against former Sheriff Arpaio. In 2012, we took him and his agency to trial and, as a result, they were put under a court-ordered monitor and required to change a variety of polices in order to prevent continued racial profiling and unlawful detainment of people, primarily Latinos. Once that was in place, we discovered that Sheriff Arpaio and other leaders were violating the court order, so we brought him again to trial for contempt of the judge’s order and had a 21-day trial in 2015 in which the court again found the  sheriff violated the order. It’s been a real pride to represent the people in the Phoenix area who have for so long been treated unfairly by this agency and have organized against it. For me to be able to represent them in court in that trial, it was a highlight of my career. 

How is your work particularly important under this new administration?

The ACLU has been around for almost 100 years and has gone through really difficult administrations in the past, but I think what we are seeing now is an all-out attack on some of the most fundamental American values, making the ACLU in the best position to respond from our national and affiliate offices in every state.

6. Vicki Gaubeca, Director at ACLU New Mexico's Regional Center for Border Rights, Mexican

Tell me about your job as the director of the ACLU’s New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights. 

Our vision is to stand with border communities to defend and protect U.S. values, like equality and justice, and U.S. constitutional rights to ensure that all families on the border region are treated with dignity. We call for best police practices, including guidelines against racial profiling, and accountability should an agent commit a human rights abuse. We work closely with our colleagues in Mexico to address human rights issues along the border and to ensure that the people detained are being treated humanely. 

What's one of the biggest obstacles you find in this work?

I think a lot of it is the narrative that exists about the border. A lot of the rhetoric during the election cycle was about building a wall. Well, we already have considerable structures at the border. Also, people forget that the 10 states at the U.S.-Mexico border make up the fourth-largest economy in the world. We need each other economically. We used to go back and forth with much more fluidity, and all of that is starting to change.

What has been one of your biggest triumphs?

In the last 8 years, we were able to get the U.S. Customs and Border Protections to institute internal reforms. There has been a handbook and training on de-escalation techniques, a new agency-wide standard that covers conditions of confinement, and they have engaged in more transparency by issuing the results of force, along with announcements after use of force incidents, and, for the first time ever, a report that covered complaints and performances of CBP agents.

How is your work particularly important under this new administration?

I think part of it is to make a distinction between what’s rhetoric and what’s going to be happening on the ground, because the rhetoric has generated a lot of alarm and concern in our community. But we are concerned about more ICE style raids conducted by border patrol and increased detention along the border region, and we are looking at strategies of protection. We should all be. It’s a really convoluted harsh system that’s of a huge use of our resources of taxpayer money to punish people away from feeding their families and being with their families.

7. Gabriela Meléndez Olivera, Political Communications Manager at the ACLU, Mexican-Puerto Rican

Tell me about your work as the political communications manager at the ACLU.

My job is to basically translate what the lawyers, lobbyists and policy folks at the ACLU do so that the public understands, knows what’s at stake, what the ACLU is doing about it and how they can help. It’s the liaison between the ACLU and the public. My job is to get the message out there as far and wide as possible, and, in some circumstances, to influence political decisions and other issues we work on. 

What's one of the biggest obstacles you find in this work?

Sometimes, I think it’s hard to get people interested in issues that are really important. For instance, when I say the government is spying on people and that almost everyone is being surveilled without warrant or oversight from government agencies, a lot of their response is, well, I’m not doing anything wrong, so what do I care? But that could bring on many other issues that could at some point in life come back and haunt them.

What has been one of your biggest triumphs?

Last year, President Barack Obama had in place a Muslim registry, which Trump could activate, so the ACLU built a campaign to rescind the registration system, which Obama did. I was very grateful. But, overall, I’m really most happy to be working at the ACLU. I’m so thankful that I’m part of the Trump response team, and people see the ACLU as part of the resistance who will hold him accountable to our laws and protect all of our rights. 

How is your work particularly important under this new administration?

I think communications in an organization like the ACLU is important because we can help activate the people, get them involved and tell them what they can actually do to overcome these challenges.