NEWARK – The largest city in the state of New Jersey, with over 280,000 residents, has approved an ordinance to create a municipal identification card program for all city residents, making it the first municipality in New Jersey to do so. The Newark Municipal Council voted unanimously to create a city-issued ID eligible to all residents aged 14 and older. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka is expected to sign the ordinance soon.
The municipal ID card will benefit all residents of Newark, including marginalized communities such as immigrants, people with disabilities, the young and elderly, formerly-incarcerated people, the homeless, and transgender individuals.
The measure was backed by the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. The ACLU-NJ, a member of the alliance's executive committee, praised the leadership of the coalition and the city.
“Newark's ID card program is a bold step forward for public safety and civil rights,” said American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “It will help ensure all city residents have equal access to basic services and police protection. Newark’s tremendous leadership in promoting compassion and advancing justice should inspire municipalities across the state to follow its lead. We look forward to continuing to work with Newark to ensure that all residents—regardless of immigration status, gender identity, age, criminal history, or housing status—are able to use their Newark IDs to protect their rights and improve their lives.”
While Newark is the first municipality in the state to issue this form of identification, other cities around the country, including New Haven, New York City, and San Francisco, have instituted similar programs.
Highlights of the ID program include:
“This is a good day for Newark residents who are already part of our communities but lack documentation,” said Kevin Brown, 32BJ Vice President and New Jersey State Director. “Newark’s Municipal ID program will give immigrants, the homeless and other disenfranchised Newarkers more opportunities to improve their lives and build a bright future for their families.”
This form of identification provides peace of mind to residents in the city who are unable to obtain other forms of identification, including undocumented immigrants.
"The municipal IDs are a great step towards justice for immigrants, who work so hard but often need to stay in the shadows of fear," said Rev. Moacir Weirich, pastor of St. Stephen's Grace Community Church and a member of Faith In New Jersey. "With the IDs people will feel more secure and welcomed into our community where they live, work, and contribute."
Lacking a government-issued identification can discourage people from contacting police to report crimes or from participating as witnesses in criminal investigations. Victims of crimes are less likely to be identified, which can also hinder notification of their loved ones.
“The members and supporters of NJ Communities United applaud Mayor Baraka as he takes this step to ensure economic opportunities and public safety for immigrant families in Newark,” said Trina Scordo, Executive Director, New Jersey Communities United. “It is our hope that Newark will be the model for municipalities across the state in establishing human rights and dignity for immigrant communities.”
The most common form of government-issued identification is a driver's license. Both driver's licenses and non-driver state identification cards require proof of immigration status, preventing undocumented immigrants from obtaining them. Immigrants living in Newark will now be eligible to use a combination of documents verified by the City to obtain an official ID and use it in their everyday lives in Newark.
“We applaud the Mayor, the Council and the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs and Diaspora’s leadership,” said Alix Nguefack, Detention Program Coordinator, American Friends Service Committee. “This policy recognizes the fact that New Jersey is the state with the third largest immigrant population and that much of this population resides in the New York-Newark-Jersey City metropolitan area.”
The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice launched a campaign in March, New Jersey For All, which aims to advance policies that address the lack of government-issued identification in the immigrant community, wage theft, the need for expanded access to driver's licenses, and the separation of immigrant families.
The Alliance views the passage of a municipal ID ordinance in Newark to be a great first step in the growing momentum from immigrant communities organizing to make New Jersey a more immigrant-friendly state.
NJAIJ Member Organizations: 1199SEIU | 32BJ SEIU | American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey | American Friends Service Committee | Catholic Charities Diocese of Metuchen | Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton | Centro Comunitario CEUS | Community of Friends in Action | El Centro Hispanoamericano | Faith in New Jersey | First Friends NJ & NY | Haiti Solidarity Network of the North East | Hispanic Family Center of Southern New Jersey | Ironbound Community Corp. | La Fuente, a Tri-State Worker & Community Fund, Inc. | Make the Road New Jersey | National Association of Social Workers – NJ Chapter | New Jersey Communities United | New Jersey Policy Perspective | New Labor | Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, Inc. | Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of NJ | Wind of the Spirit
NEWARK - The New Jersey Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in Guaman v. Velez, an immigrant rights case in which the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey submitted an amicus brief (PDF) challenging the state’s discriminatory cuts to a state health insurance program for low-wage workers.
The lawsuit challenges the state policy that denied participation in the state’s FamilyCare program to immigrants who have been lawful permanent residents less than five years. New Jersey FamilyCare is a state-funded Medicaid program that provides subsidized health insurance to qualifying low-income adults and children. At least 12,000 working residents, who would be otherwise eligible for the program, are affected by these cuts.
The ACLU-NJ’s brief argues that New Jersey violated the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the laws. The state Appellate Court ruled in August 2013 that the state was permitted to exclude the lawful permanent residents because it linked it’s policy to a “uniform federal standard” governing all Medicaid funding.
The following statement about the case and the oral arguments may be attributed to Edward Barocas, legal director of the ACLU of NJ:
“The imposition of a residency requirement on otherwise-eligible lawful permanent residents — requirements not placed on citizens — violates both the federal and state constitutional guarantee to equal protection.
“The issue is all the more important because of the health care consequences to thousands of working residents. The State's decision to deny benefits can result in more high-cost emergency room visits, a lack of preventative care, and seriously ill individuals who delay seeking treatment.”
Acting Dean of Rutgers Law School – Newark Ronald Chen argued the case on behalf of the ACLU-NJ.
NEWARK -- President Obama's historic announcement on immigration will keep together tens of thousands of families in New Jersey and provide substantial relief to undocumented immigrants who face a constant threat of deportation.
“The ACLU of New Jersey strongly supports the President’s actions on immigration reform. Our broken immigration system, which has festered for decades and created a nation where millions live in the shadows, has led to a civil and human rights crisis. Thanks to President Obama, potentially hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents will be able to put the fear of deportation behind them, for now,” ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer said. “However, the President's actions are not a substitute for the comprehensive immigration reform that our country has needed for so long.”
Along with the President's statement last night, a series of memoranda detailed the exact policy changes outlined in the remarks. Some of these changes, especially to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policies, will directly affect the relationship between state and local law enforcement in New Jersey.
While the embattled Secure Communities Program, which fueled the rise of thousands of immigration detainer requests by ICE to state and local jails, will be dismantled, it will be replaced by the Priorities Enforcement Program (PEP). The onerous requirement that local jails share all fingerprints of arrestees with ICE will continue under the new program, but rather than asking local jails to detain those suspected of civil immigration offenses, ICE is now asking local jails to notify them upon release of such a person. The new program continues the use of detainer requests in unspecified “special circumstances.”
"The revisions are a welcome validation of years of hard work by the ACLU, together with immigrant communities and local policymakers and law enforcement leaders, to show that ICE’s practices damaged public safety, fostered distrust between immigrant communities and police, and were a civil rights disaster,” ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin said.
However, other details of the new ICE practices remain unclear, as does the real effect of the program revisions.
“As long as local law enforcement in New Jersey remains involved in facilitating the deportation of New Jersey families, whether honoring warrantless detainer requests or notifying ICE of inmates' release, distrust between immigrant communities and police will persist and public safety will continue to suffer,” ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alex Shalom said.
NEWARK – Union County has become the first New Jersey county to formally adopt a policy declining to hold (PDF) individuals in its jail based on requests issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The move comes in response to a July 15, 2014, request (PDF) from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ).
ICE routinely issues requests to jails and law enforcement agencies to hold people detained in their facilities for up to 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) longer than they would otherwise be released because of suspected civil immigration offenses. Until recently, all New Jersey’s county jails routinely honored those requests although they are not legally binding.
Union County’s new practice, in effect as of August 4, 2014, requires the Union County Department of Corrections to release individuals on their scheduled release date unless county officials receive a warrant, court order or other legally sufficient proof of probable cause from ICE. According to ICE data reported by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, between October 2011 and August 2013, Union County received at least 326 detainer requests, sixty percent of which were aimed at individuals who had not been convicted of any criminal offense.
“We applaud Union County officials for recognizing the critical importance of fostering trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement,” said Ari Rosmarin, Public Policy Director at the ACLU-NJ. “The county has discontinued a practice that seriously undermined public safety, posed significant constitutional concerns, and exposed the county to significant liability. We hope and expect other New Jersey counties will follow Union’s lead in adopting similar policies.”
At least two other New Jersey counties have also indicated that they will limit the practice of honoring detainer requests. Both Ocean (PDF) and Middlesex (PDF) Counties will now follow a policy to honor detainer requests only for individuals charged with certain crimes. While these policies represent progress, they both fail at insulating the counties from liability and at sending a clear message to immigrant communities that the counties are not in the business of enforcing immigration law for the federal government. The ACLU-NJ has also been made aware that Camden County has formally changed its policy with regard to honoring immigration detainer requests. However, the ACLU-NJ has not received a copy of Camden’s policy and therefore its contours remain uncertain at this time.
“It is an improvement when even one fewer person is unlawfully held in jail,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “Even so, counties that honor any detainer requests not only ignore the constitutional rights of detainees, but they also shortchange community trust and public safety, all while risking enormous financial consequences. Union County’s approach serves all of the county’s residents and serves as a model for the state and nation.”
Immigration detainers transfer the costs and responsibilities of immigration enforcement from the federal government to local jurisdictions, which lack the resources and authority to enforce immigration law. New Jersey jails have no authority under New Jersey law to deprive people of their liberty based solely on an immigration detainer request. In Galarza v. Szalczyk, a 2014 Third Circuit case brought by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project involving the detention of a Perth Amboy-born man at the request of ICE, Lehigh County, Pa., paid out a nearly $100,000 settlement for unlawfully keeping him in custody. As a result, the Lehigh County Board of Commissions voted unanimously to end the county’s policy of imprisoning people based on ICE detainer requests.
Recent months have given rise to a national wave of local jurisdictions issuing policies refusing to honor ICE detainer requests. To date, over 160 jurisdictions outside of New Jersey have decided to stop automatically honoring detainer requests, including Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, and the states of California and Connecticut.
Recently, several federal courts have made clear that detainer requests are non-binding and that local authorities, and not ICE, are ultimately liable for violations of constitutional rights that result from honoring immigration detainer requests. The ACLU-NJ letter made clear that the organization is prepared to take legal action should a prisoner in New Jersey custody be held unconstitutionally as a result of an ICE detainer request. The ACLU-NJ also warned counties that unless they decline to honor any ICE detainer requests without judicial findings of probable cause or warrant, they expose themselves to unnecessary liability.
The ACLU-NJ, in partnership with immigrants’ rights, community, and faith organizations across New Jersey, will continue to urge counties statewide to follow Union County’s lead and end their policies of choosing to honor ICE detainer requests.
NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) sent letters to officials in all 21 New Jersey counties (PDF) urging them to stop honoring warrantless immigration detainer requests issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE routinely issues these requests to jails and law enforcement agencies to hold people detained in their facilities for up to 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) longer than they would otherwise be released because of suspected civil immigration offenses. New Jersey’s county jails routinely honor these requests although they are not legally binding.
“New Jersey’s county jails should be on notice that immigration detainer requests do not give license to wrongfully hold someone without probable cause or a warrant,” said ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “By choosing to honor these optional requests, New Jersey counties undermine public safety by diminishing immigrant communities’ trust in local law enforcement and raise the prospect of significant constitutional violations.”
According to ICE data reported by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, New Jersey county jails received at least 5,844 such detainer requests from ICE between October 2011 and August 2013. Nearly two-thirds of those requests were lodged against individuals who had not been convicted of any offense.
Recently, several federal courts have made clear that detainer requests are non-binding and that local authorities, and not ICE, are ultimately liable for violations of constitutional rights that result from honoring immigration detainer requests. The ACLU-NJ letter makes clear that the organization is prepared to take legal action should a prisoner in New Jersey custody be held unconstitutionally as a result of an ICE detainer request.
“If county officials are not moved to stop honoring detainer requests out of respect for the constitutional rights of detainees or the desire to build community trust and public safety, they should still act out of economic self-interest,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “Looking at the settlements that counties around the country have paid out for unlawfully holding prisoners at ICE’s request makes clear that honoring immigration detainer requests simply doesn’t pay.”
In August 2013, the ACLU-NJ and its partners worked with former Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Police Director Samuel DeMaio to make Newark the first New Jersey jurisdiction to adopt a formal policy of rejecting warrantless immigration detainers. Princeton followed suit with its own limited detainer policy in November 2013. In July 2014, Middlesex County became the first New Jersey county to acknowledge that ICE detainer requests are not mandatory and amend its detainer request policy.
Recent months have given rise to a national wave of local jurisdictions issuing policies refusing to honor ICE detainer requests. To date, 153 jurisdictions outside of New Jersey have decided they would no longer automatically honor detainer requests, including Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, and the states of California and Connecticut.
Detainer requests are not legally binding warrants and ICE regularly issues them without probable cause, the legal standard required for an arrest. Such requests are not approved by a judge and they do not mean there has been an official finding that the subject of the request is undocumented or deportable. Indeed, ICE has wrongfully issued detainer requests against hundreds of United States citizens. The ACLU-NJ letter warns counties that to avoid liability they should decline to honor ICE detainer requests without a judicial finding of probable cause or a warrant.
Immigration detainers transfer the costs and responsibilities of immigration enforcement from the federal government to local jurisdictions, which lack the resources and authority to enforce immigration law. New Jersey jails have no authority under New Jersey law to deprive people of their liberty based solely on an immigration detainer request. In Galarza v. Szalczyk, a 2014 Third Circuit case brought by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the ACLU Immigrants Rights’ Project involving the detention of a Perth Amboy-born man at the request of ICE, Lehigh County, Pa., paid out a nearly $100,000 settlement for unlawfully keeping him in custody. As a result, the Lehigh County Board of Commissions voted unanimously to end the county’s policy of imprisoning people based on ICE detainer requests.
Immigrant community advocates and leaders throughout New Jersey echo the call for New Jersey’s counties to stop honoring ICE detainer requests:
View a more detailed breakdown of ICE detainer requests issued in New Jersey by county and facility in this Syracuse University report about ICE detainer trends nationwide.
On June 9, 2014, a week after the ACLU-NJ filed seven lawsuits against school districts with enrollment policies that discriminated against immigrant families, all seven of those districts came into compliance with the law. The districts – Audubon, Gloucester Township and Somerdale Park in Camden County; North Brunswick, Old Bridge Township and Perth Amboy, in Middlesex County; and Galloway Township in Atlantic County – had previously required parents to present state-issued photo ID as a condition of enrollment. To enroll children in local public schools, parents need only two things: proof of a child’s age and proof of residency in the school district.
The following statement is from Alexander Shalom, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of New Jersey.
“A week after the ACLU-NJ filed seven lawsuits against seven school districts for discriminating against immigrant families, all seven districts have agreed to comply with constitutional and state law. These rapid settlements stand as a testament to the lack of ambiguity in the law on discrimination in school enrollment.
All seven had websites that indicated that parents were required to present state-issued photo ID as a precondition of enrolling their child in school, which runs counter to the spirit and the letter of the law.
Fortunately, these schools for the most part quickly acknowledged the need to change their policies. Some explained that they had never finalized changes to the regulations that were under way.
Unfortunately, several New Jersey school districts still ask parents to present identification or erect other improper barriers before parents can enroll their children. The ACLU-NJ will contact these districts in the coming weeks and expects all New Jersey school districts to abide by state and federal law before the start of the next school year.”
NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) has given Gov. Chris Christie a D+ (PDF) for his overall record on civil liberties and civil rights during his first term in office. The ACLU-NJ examined the governor’s record in 12 issue areas and gave him his lowest grades in the areas of separation of church and state, transparency, and separation of powers.
The governor earned higher marks in other areas, such as freedom of religion and voting rights. The report card examines the Christie administration from January 19, 2010 when Gov. Christie was sworn into office, to January 20, 2014 when his first term ended.
“Gov. Christie’s overall record on civil liberties and civil rights has been poor, ranging mostly from mediocre to failing,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “The Christie administration’s first-term record on civil liberties will be remembered for its assaults on judicial independence and the separation of church and state, as well as for its disdain for transparency. Some of Governor Christie’s most frustrating civil liberties moments have been those instances where he has failed to back up bold words with substantive actions, such as in the areas of LGBT rights and the failed war on drugs.”
The first-term report card graded the governor on 12 crucial civil rights and liberties issues: freedom of expression, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, voting rights, women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, privacy, LGBT rights, criminal justice and drug policy, transparency, separation of powers, and economic justice. This report card expanded on the categories of the ACLU-NJ’s 2012 interim report card, which graded him in eight categories.
“The real concern here is not what these grades mean for Gov. Christie and his administration, but what they’ve meant for everyday New Jerseyans,” said ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “From loving couples seeking to get married, to sick patients in need of medical marijuana, to poor New Jerseyans struggling to find an affordable place to live, many of us have not had a friend in the Governor’s office. While there still remains time to improve, as of now, this administration’s legacy on civil rights and liberties is not a proud one.”
Christie’s highest grade came in the area of freedom of religion, the category in which he also earned his highest marks in the ACLU-NJ’s interim report card. Christie deservedly received praise for supporting a developer’s decision to construct a mosque and Muslim community center near the World Trade Center during the height of the controversy in 2011. Soon after, Christie garnered national attention for excoriating a faction that railed against the appointment of a Muslim lawyer to serve as a Superior Court judge.
Christie’s appreciation for freedom of religion swung too far in the other direction when it came down to state involvement in religion. In the category of separation of church and state, Christie received the lowest score – an F. Especially damning was his administration’s decision to give away millions in state funds to two sectarian religious institutions: Beth Medrash Govoha, a school that trains Orthodox rabbis, and Princeton Theological Seminary, which trains Christian clergy.
The ACLU-NJ recognized his administration’s support for voting rights, especially in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, with a B-. In transparency, separation of powers and economic justice, Christie earned solid Fs for his abysmal record on all three issues across the board. The Bridgegate scandal exposed how frequently the administration attempted to keep government business out of the public eye, but it hardly stands in isolation.
Christie’s protracted fight against marriage equality, which ended only when it became clear that he would lose, cast a long shadow over some of his gestures of good will toward the LGBT community, resulting in his final grade of a D in LGBT rights. When it comes to immigrants’ rights, Gov. Christie supported giving undocumented immigrants a chance at a higher education by signing the NJ Dream Act, but he removed an important provision that would have fully opened the doors of opportunity by allowing them to apply for state financial aid, earning him an overall grade of a C in immigrants’ rights. Gov. Christie earned Cs in a plurality of other subjects as well, including freedom of expression, women’s rights, privacy, and criminal justice and drug policy, although even those grades ranged from C- to C+.
“The Christie administration deserves credit where credit is due, especially in taking a stand for religious expression and being responsive to voting concerns in the wake of Superstorm Sandy,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Edward Barocas. “But where Gov. Christie stumbles, such as when it comes to the separation of powers and to transparency, the bottom falls out. We hope the governor learned his civil liberties lesson from numerous court actions that were successfully brought against his administration during his first term, but if not, we’re ready to compel him to act as if he were an A student.”
NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) filed seven lawsuits today against New Jersey school districts that have failed to comply with state and federal constitutional law requirements prohibiting discrimination against immigrant families attempting to enroll their children in school. The school districts sued today have maintained these discriminatory policies despite the ACLU-NJ’s repeated warnings to revoke them.
These seven districts, located in three New Jersey counties, all require government-issued photo identification as a condition of enrollment, contrary to clearly established law. The ACLU-NJ’s lawsuits ask the courts to halt these unconstitutional school registration requirements immediately.
“In the two months since the ACLU-NJ warned dozens of school districts about their unconstitutional policies, more than 100 of them responded commendably by scrapping such policies,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “In contrast, the districts we’re suing today decided to keep their restrictive policies, even after being notified about potential legal action. These seven districts impose policies that not only ignore clearly established law, but worse, discriminate. We won’t stand by and allow districts to continue these unlawful practices.”
Constitutional law forbids school districts from excluding children based on their or their parents’ immigration status. However, the registration requirements in the seven school districts include proof of identification that can only be obtained by people who have lawful immigration status.
The school districts the ACLU-NJ is suing have some of the most restrictive policies in the state. All seven require driver’s licenses or other comparable forms of identification. The seven districts that the ACLU-NJ sued are:
In March, the ACLU-NJ discovered that 136 school districts imposed illegal barriers to immigrant student enrollment. In early April, the ACLU-NJ sent letters to all 136, warning them that they would face the prospect of litigation if they did not comport with the law. As of late May, 109 changed their policies, and 27 others did not. While the policies of the remaining districts range in degree of noncompliance with the law, the ACLU-NJ chose those with the most overtly discriminatory policies for the initial seven lawsuits.
“It is deeply troubling that in New Jersey today, public schools discriminate against immigrant families, and do so despite repeated warnings to come into compliance with clearly established law,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “Immigrant children have an equal right to access a public school education, and schools must not erect barriers that prevent the exercise of this right. The ACLU of New Jersey will not rest until all children in New Jersey are treated equally, regardless of their immigration status.”
New Jersey has two requirements that families must meet when attempting to enroll a child in public school: proof of age and proof of in-district residency. Both federal and state law and regulations dictate that schools cannot ask about a students’ immigration status, or, further, discriminate based on national origin or immigration status.
In May, the United States Departments of Justice and of Education jointly issued a letter reminding schools that their enrollment processes must provide all children with equal access to an education. The guidance specified that requiring driver’s licenses during the enrollment process is impermissible.
The ACLU-NJ began investigating the enrollment policies of New Jersey school districts in March, when residents of Butler, in Morris County, brought their restrictive enrollment policy to the organization’s attention. The ACLU-NJ filed a lawsuit when the school district refused to end its policy, and the district ultimately agreed to drop the restrictions.
“The law in this area is unambiguous: schools cannot impose restrictions on enrollment that discriminate unconstitutionally,” said Shalom. “We want all New Jersey residents to know that no matter what your background is, your children have the right to enroll in their local school district. And, we hope that every school district will be vigilant in ensuring that they provide equal access to children so that we will not have to resort to court action to remind them of their obligation.”
On May 1, the ACLU of New Jersey and other leading civil rights organizations hosted a civil rights and liberties debate in Princeton for candidates vying for the 12th Congressional District seat. The seat is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, who is retiring.
Democratic candidates Upendra Chivukula, Linda Greenstein, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Andrew Zwicker and Republican candidate Alieta Eck, squared off on a variety of questions about civil rights and civil liberties issues. The event was moderated by NJTV anchor Mike Schneider.
The ACLU works to protect the fundamental right of every adult citizen in New Jersey to cast a ballot and have that ballot counted. Call the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Election Day hotline: 1-800-792-VOTE (8683) if you encounter any problems at the polls on June 3rd.
Co-sponsoring organization included: AFSC Immigrant Rights Program, CAIR-NJ, Drug Policy Alliance- New Jersey, The Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., New Jersey NAACP State Conference, YWCA Princeton, and YWCA Union County.
NEWARK -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) sent a letter (PDF) to 136 New Jersey school districts today advising them to change their discriminatory enrollment policies or face litigation.
The ACLU-NJ has identified 136 school districts that require overly restrictive forms of identification for an adult to enroll a child in school, contrary to state and federal law. Almost every New Jersey county had at least one school district with problematic identification guidelines, which tend to single out immigrant families. The ACLU-NJ’s website has a chart of every district identified.
"Time and again, courts have ruled that in a democratic society, the doors of public schools must be open for all children who live here," said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. "Yet we still see schools putting up unconstitutional barriers that single out some students as less worthy of an education than others. All New Jersey school districts must uphold our democratic ideals by letting all New Jersey children enroll in school, as the law requires."
The ACLU-NJ has given the school districts four weeks to reform their policies and practices before broaching the subject of litigation. The policies among the 136 districts varied widely in degree. Some districts requested both Social Security numbers and government-issued photo identification, a combination that plainly discriminates against children of undocumented parents. Other districts’ guidelines, such as those calling for photo ID without requiring that it be state-issued, also prevent or discourage undocumented parents from registering their children.
"These regulations may not have been issued with any intent to discriminate, but regardless of why these regulations were put in place, in practice they prevent some children from getting the education they’re entitled to by law," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. "All New Jersey school districts need to erase these policies from the books."
The policies that call for state-issued identification all require a Social Security number or valid immigration status, which singles out immigrant communities in particular as ineligible for enrollment in school. New Jersey law requires proof only of the child’s age and residency within the district. While school districts may require proof of residency, the Constitution and state regulations mandate that public schools provide equal access to students regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status. Although the state Department of Education sends a semiannual reminder to school districts about enrollment requirements, nearly a quarter of public schools illegally ask for overly restrictive forms of identification.
The ACLU-NJ investigated the policies of school districts after residents of Butler in Morris County brought their school district’s restrictive ID policy to the ACLU-NJ’s attention. After forcing the ACLU-NJ to bring the matter to court, Butler agreed to institute nondiscriminatory enrollment policies that comport with the clearly established law. In following up after Butler, the ACLU-NJ learned of more school districts and identified 136 that have onerous identification requirements, including some of New Jersey’s largest cities.
The school districts of Jersey City, Trenton, Hamilton Township, Perth Amboy, Camden, Cherry Hill, East Orange, Montclair and Old Bridge, among the most populous municipalities in the state, all require IDs from families of prospective students that do not comply with state law. Bergen County had the highest number of school districts with restrictive ID policies, with 26 not complying. In 2011, the ACLU-NJ represented a resident of Bergen County who encountered difficulty enrolling his son in the Northern Valley Regional School District because of his status as an immigrant from Israel living in the United States on a visa. That school district now has an enrollment policy that does not discriminate against potential students based on their families’ immigration status.
"We were surprised by the number and broad range of school districts with restrictive, discriminatory enrollment policies," said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. "These policies exist in every almost county, from the poorest cities to the wealthiest suburbs, and everywhere in between. Clearly, the scale of this problem demands serious action, and serious self-examination among New Jersey school districts."
To see every New Jersey school district with a restrictive ID policy in place, read the ACLU-NJ’s findings online.
In 2008, the ACLU-NJ conducted rigorous telephone surveys of the more than 500 school districts in the state and discovered that 139 of them required documents that indicate immigration status, contrary to New Jersey regulations and the U.S. Constitution. Forty-six of these school districts still engage in discriminatory ID policies, according to the ACLU-NJ’s latest analysis.
"The Supreme Court ruled more than 30 years ago that all children have an equal right to a public school education, regardless of their immigration status," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. "We many never know how many children have been deprived of an education because of the failure of school districts to comply with constitutional requirements."