Law and Order: Q&A – Lee Gelernt ‘80

Jack Crovitz, Staff Writer

The Record: What is the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project’s goal? How did you get involved in the project in the first place?

Lee Gelernt: Our goal is to defend and expand the constitutional and civil rights of non-citizens. Although non-citizens do not have all the rights of citizens, they are protected by the basic provisions of the Constitution, like the due process and equal protection provisions.

TR: What was the ACLU’s reaction to Jeff Sessions announcement of the “zero tolerance” policy?

LG: The separation of families is the worst practice I have seen in my 25 plus years doing civil rights work at the ACLU. We actually had filed a lawsuit challenging the separations before Sessions announced “zero tolerance” because we knew that families were already being separated, even though the government was refusing to say it had a formal policy. At the time of our lawsuit, we believed there were approximately 700 families separated, but an internal government report released in the last two weeks said there may have been thousands of families separated even before zero tolerance was announced.

TR: Who are some of the clients that you have worked with?

LG: In the family separation lawsuit, my clients were mothers and fathers who had their children taken from them; some of these children were only babies. I am also representing the family of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, who is suing a border patrol agent for fatally shooting their son. In the past, I represented a college football player named Abdullah al-Kidd, who was falsely accused after September 11 because he was Muslim.

TR: How do you think the US’ views towards immigration have changed over the past 50 years or so, if at all?

LG: I think the US’ views have historically been cyclical. At various periods in our history, including the last 50 years, people have made immigrants the scapegoat for the country’s problems and demonized them. I think that is what is happening now.  Hopefully that will change, as it has in the past.

TR: What will you be working on the future?

LG: The past two years have been the busiest of my career, which has often been very busy. The current administration shows no signs of slowing down its attacks on immigrants, so I think I will continue to be very busy. I will continue to challenge the family separations and the ban on asylum, as well as new policies introduced by the administration.