Protecting Liberty and Justice for All

ACLU gains popularity under Trump administration

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When President Donald Trump first announced the now-halted travel ban on seven Muslim-majority states and an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, the popularity of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) skyrocketed to new heights.

Despite usually raising about $3.5 million in a year, the ACLU received over $24 million in online donations from over 350,000 donors the weekend following the ban in January.

The ACLU is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, working largely at the grassroots level to protect civil rights under the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU was instrumental in repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” upholding Roe v. Wade and enacting same-sex marriage.

ACLU of Northern California organizer Jessica Cabrera Carmona is one of the many members who joined recently. Since joining, she has become an organizer and now runs “Know Your Rights” trainings across Northern California.

“Reading the news, people all over want to get active and fight back against this new administration and the ACLU of Northern California is a vehicle to help,” Carmona said.

The ACLU operates all over the country through 53 affiliate organizations, like the ACLU of Northern California. Within this affiliate there are 16 county chapters, including the ACLU Santa Cruz County Chapter. National membership reportedly doubled since last year’s election.

“We’re going to see a lot more racial profiling, a lot more groups of people sharing a hateful rhetoric,” said ACLU of Northern California organizer Raquel Ortega. “Our legal system needs a lot of work and we need to stand united.”

As part of its reaction to the Trump administration, the ACLU Santa Cruz Chapter held a “Know Your Rights” training at the Louden Nelson Community Center on April 8. ACLU representatives trained attendees how to interact with the police, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with the intention for attendees to go on and train others.

The rights of immigrants have been a particularly salient issue in Santa Cruz after a series of arrests were made in collaboration with the DHS on Feb. 13. The Santa Cruz Police Department has since pledged to rebuild trust in the community.

“This is a very serious issue that affects a lot of people in our community,” said Dorah Shuey, a Santa Cruz County Chapter board member who attended the event. “Whether you are an immigrant or not, it is very important that you stand up for your rights.”

The ACLU may be receiving new levels of support and recognition, but it has become evident that interaction with the legal system — at a local rather than federal level — can be difficult to understand and maneuver.

“People are running out of hope and getting desperate. Knowing your rights is great but they are violating our rights,” said community member and immigrant rights activist Ernestina Saldaña, referencing the use of intimidation by many ICE officers.

ACLU organizer Raquel Ortega advocates for closer connections between different communities in Santa Cruz as a grassroots step toward addressing threats from the new administration.

“That is how you really make change: by building power,” Ortega said.