Wednesday, June 30, 2010

ACLU of Wisconsin Issues Travel Advisory for State of Arizona

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin alerts Wisconsin residents to potential threats to the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individuals planning to travel or stay in Arizona. This is especially important for those traveling during the holiday weekend.

Get your bust card:
The ACLU has prepared an informational card for the public entitled, “What to Do if You’re Stopped by Police, Immigration Agents or the FBI.” While the card provides information that applies throughout the United States in any encounter with law enforcement officials, individuals are particularly advised to download and read this card before traveling to Arizona. A copy is available here (en Español).

Key information that applies to all individuals considering travel through Arizona includes the following:
  • If you travel through the state of Arizona and encounter law enforcement officers, remember that all persons within the boundaries of the United States, regardless of immigration status, are protected by the U.S. Constitution.

  • Racial and ethnic profiling is illegal. An officer cannot stop you because of physical features or English ability. The officer must be able to articulate a reason for a “lawful stop or detention.”

  • If you are stopped for questioning:

    Stay calm. Don’t run. Don’t argue, resist or obstruct the police, even if you are innocent or police are violating your rights. Keep your hands where police can see them. If you are driving a car, stop the car in a safe place as quickly as possible. Turn off the car, turn on the internal light, open the window part way and place your hands on the wheel.

    Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, you have the right to calmly and silently walk away. If you are under arrest, you have a right to know why.

    You have the right to remain silent and cannot be punished for refusing to answer questions. If you wish to remain silent, tell the officer out loud. However, under state law in Arizona and some other states, you must give your name if asked to identify yourself. If you are the driver of a vehicle, upon request, show police your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. Both drivers and passengers have the right to remain silent. If you are a passenger, you can ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, sit silently in the car or calmly leave. Even if the officer says no, you have the right to remain silent.

    You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but police may “pat down” your clothing if they suspect a weapon. You should not physically resist, but you have the right to refuse consent for any further search. If you do consent, it can affect your rights later in court. If you are the driver of a vehicle and an officer or immigration agent asks to look inside your car, you can refuse to consent to the search. But if police believe your car contains evidence of a crime, your car can be searched without your consent.

  • If you are questioned about your immigration status:

    You have the right to remain silent and do not have to discuss your immigration or citizenship status with police, immigration agents or any other officials. You do not have to answer questions about where you were born, whether you are a U.S. citizen, or how you entered the country. (Separate rules apply at international borders and airports, and for individuals on certain nonimmigrant visas, including tourists and business travelers.)

    If you are not a U.S. citizen and an immigration agent requests your immigration papers, you must show them if you have them with you. If you are over 18, carry your immigration documents with you at all times. If you do not have immigration papers, say you want to remain silent.

    Do not lie about your citizenship status or provide fake documents.

  • If you feel your rights have been violated, write down everything you can remember, including officers’ badge and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and any other details. Get contact information for witnesses.

  • Residents of Hawai’i, New Mexico, and Washington should be aware that, because the driver’s licenses of their states do not require proof of legal residence for issuance, they may not satisfy Arizona criteria for identification under the new Arizona racial profiling law.
Wisconsin residents who are subjected to racial or ethnic profiling or other rights violations are encouraged to report these concerns to the ACLU of Wisconsin at (414) 272-4032 x 23.

More on the Arizona racial profiling law:
On April 23, 2010, Arizona enacted a state racial profiling law, SB 1070, that has generated fear and confusion among the public about the treatment and rights of Americans in the State of Arizona. Although the law is not scheduled to go into effect until July 29, 2010, and multiple lawsuits have already been filed to prevent it from taking effect at all, a history of rampant racial profiling by law enforcement officials in Maricopa County, Arizona (which includes the cities of Phoenix, Glendale, Mesa, and Scottsdale) and a stated policy of “attrition through enforcement” adopted by lawmakers in the state give credible reason to be concerned even before the date SB 1070 is supposed to go into effect.

The law will require police officers to demand papers proving U.S. citizenship or immigration status from any individual whom they stop, detain, or arrest, based on an undefined “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is in the country unlawfully. It invites discrimination against and pretextual stops and arrests of Latinos, other racial minorities, and individuals believed to look or sound “foreign,” based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin.

The law expressly provides that even suspected infractions of city or town ordinances – such as jaywalking, excessive noise, or having an overgrown or untidy lawn – can and should lead to immigration questioning. If individuals are unable to prove to the police officer that they are permitted to be in the United States, they may be subject to warrantless arrest without any probable cause that they have committed a crime.

Since 2007, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) has systematically engaged in selective enforcement of minor traffic laws to target Latino motorists for stops and investigation of their U.S. citizenship or immigration status. The U.S. Department of Justice has initiated an investigation into the practices of the MCSO, and there are at least two pending civil rights lawsuits challenging this activity in the federal courts.

The increased risk that individuals and motorists will be stopped, questioned, detained, and arrested because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin makes it imperative that individuals understand their rights when encountering law enforcement authorities in Arizona.

Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Decision on Marriage Amendment Referendum: ACLU of Wisconsin Responds

Today, Christopher Ahmuty, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin issued the following statement in response to the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision affirming the lower court's ruling that the marriage amendment adopted by Wisconsin's voters in 2006 did not violate the separate amendment rule of the Wisconsin Constitution. This constitutional rule requires that voters must be able to vote separately on separate constitutional amendments.

Ahmuty said, "the Court wisely limited its analysis of the marriage amendment's two clauses, without trying to decide 'what legal statuses identical or substantially similar to marriage are prohibited by this [the second] clause…' The ACLU maintains that the marriage amendment's second clause only prohibits 'marriage by another name' which confers all the benefits, protections, and responsibilities of civil marriages. The Court's decision means the fight for recognition of same sex domestic relationships will continue to advance, a fight in which the ACLU will continue to participate vigorously.

"The ACLU of Wisconsin joined Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and Fair Wisconsin in filing an amicus brief in McConkey v. Van Hollen."

For more of our recent work on LGBT rights, visit the issues section of our website.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mosinee and Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau Schools Must Defend Student Speech

Wisconsin students have the right to free speech, even when it causes offense. In the recent examples of students wearing controversial t-shirts, the ACLU of Wisconsin underscores the need for a greater understanding of student expression rights and clearer policies on discipline for disorderly conduct.

Wisconsin media are reporting on two recent controversies over student free speech and the confiscation of t-shirts by public school officials. In Mosinee, school officials confiscated “Stop Abuse” t-shirts designed to raise awareness of sexual assault. At the Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau school in western Wisconsin, students could face discipline or even disorderly conduct charges after some wore t-shirts which depicted KKK figures playing in a band.

The ACLU of Wisconsin has pointed out in both controversies that while public school students’ right to expression is limited at school, high school students do not lose all their rights at the schoolyard gate. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Tinker vs. Des Moines applies to these Wisconsin incidents. The Court ruled that officials may ban expression when it disrupts the educational environment. However fear of disruption or offending other students, staff or community members is not enough to justify censorship.

In media reports on both cases, Mosinee’s stop sexual assault t-shirts and G-E-T’s KKK band t-shirts were described by school officials as offensive. The ACLU understands that First Amendment protections include offensive speech. If it only protected speech everyone either liked or ignored, it would be irrelevant.

The G-E-T superintendent, according to one article, suggested that the school “…was a pretty hostile place to be if you were an African American student.” However, justifying censorship on those grounds requires some evidence. For instance, if the students who wore the controversial t-shirts had repeatedly confronted black students during the school year, then the school is right to respond to intimidation. However there is a difference between a single instance of expression and creating a hostile environment. This must be clear: students’ expression of their religious or political beliefs is constitutionally protected, while actions of harassment, violence, or intimidation are not protected speech.

The media has not reported all the facts and some school officials have not been entirely forthcoming (citing student privacy laws). G-E-T’s Superintendent Gunderson refused to show the t-shirts to one TV reporter. Based on media accounts, neither Mosinee nor G-E-T officials have provided evidence that the t-shirts caused disruption.

WEAU-TV 13 quotes one G-E-T student as saying that a fight broke out between some of the t-shirt wearing students and a few black students. It is unfortunate that the school is caught between protecting students’ privacy and expression rights. Students and school officials may have witnessed the controversial incident, but the community also has the right to know if students are being disciplined for their conduct or for their expression. The ACLU of Wisconsin is continuing its independent investigation.

In both controversies, school officials need to educate their students and respond to conflict. At G-E-T there is also apparently a need to work on race relations. The ACLU of Wisconsin has been developing programs to assist schools in such efforts. For more information from the ACLU of Wisconsin on youth rights, contact

The ACLU of Wisconsin has approximately 9,000 members who support its efforts to defend the civil liberties and civil rights of all Wisconsin residents. For more on the work of the ACLU of Wisconsin, visit our webpage. Find us on Facebook and Twitter at ACLUMadison and ACLUofWisconsin.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

ACLU of WI Supports the Proposed City Resolution on Immigration and Local Law Enforcement

The ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Office sent a letter today to the members of the Madison Common Council urging them to support a resolution on the topic of local law enforcement, racial profiling and immigration. This is what we wrote:

"The ACLU of Wisconsin urges the City of Madison Common Council to vote in favor of a resolution affirming Madison’s current sensible approach to enforcement of flawed federal immigration laws and opposing discriminatory policing practices and proposals. Local law enforcement practices that involve racial profiling result in bad policing, overstep the authority of local governments, and ultimately make our communities less safe.

"This important resolution reaffirms existing Madison police policies which oppose racial profiling. In addition, the ACLU of Wisconsin also supports the call by the resolution sponsors for the Dane County Sheriff’s Department to end its current practice of reporting persons who are arrested – but not convicted of crimes - to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

"Around the country, the ACLU has actively challenged racial profiling. The most recent, extreme example of such a biased law – against which the ACLU has filed suit - is the recently-passed Arizona legislation allowing police officers to demand citizenship papers based on a so-called “reasonable suspicion” that a person is undocumented. This law clearly violates the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. constitution: it is inevitable that “reasonable suspicion” will disproportionately impact persons of color and non-native English speakers, U.S. citizens, lawful residents and suspected undocumented persons alike. By interfering with the federal government’s sole authority to regulate immigration, the Arizona law also violates the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.

"Good community-based policing is essential for effective law enforcement to protect public safety. Local police rely on community residents to provide the information they need to fight crime. Immigration enforcement and racial profiling by local police undermine community policing efforts and add to the loss of trust by large sectors of the community it is obligated to serve and protect. In communities where people are afraid to talk to local police, more crimes go unreported, fewer witnesses come forth, and people are less likely to report suspicious activity.

The ACLU of Wisconsin therefore urges the Madison Common Council to protect everyone in the community and pass resolution 18594."

Read more about the issue in this article from the Capitol Times.
The Madison common council will vote on the resolution tonight (Tuesday, June 1) at 6:30 p.m. in room 201 of the City-County building.