There Are No Sanctuary Cities in the United States

There Are No Sanctuary Cities in the United States

I’m from Saint Paul, so I ought to know. Saint Paul was, famously, a sanctuary city. In the 1930s the city allowed organized crime to operate freely without threat of arrest so long as they promised not to commit any crimes in the city.

Nonetheless, two U.S. senators have introduced amendments to a pending education funding bill that would block funding to “sanctuary cities.” Their move comes in the wake of the tragic killing of a San Francisco woman by a previously deported man who had been released from police custody.

Today, the term “sanctuary city” often is used by anti-immigrant political candidates to conjure up images of U.S. citizen criminals languishing behind bars while noncitizens walk free simply because they are aliens. This is ridiculous. There is no city in this country where a person who is arrested and charged with a crime or who is subject to a lawfully issued warrant for their arrest would be released onto the street simply because they are not a U.S. citizen.

What fear-mongering detractors call “sanctuary cities” are more accurately termed separation policies. In Minnesota, these policies were developed by police departments – not by city councils or mayors – to carefully balance two important policing priorities: cooperating with federal immigration authorities while ensuring that everyone living in our communities turns to the police if they are victims of crime. They seek to assure victims that if they report a crime to the police, they will not be interrogated about civil immigration status violations if they have not themselves committed a crime. These policies help ensure that criminals who prey upon immigrants are brought to justice.

Although these policies are accused of creating “sanctuary cities,” nothing is farther from the truth. Nothing stops police officers from arresting immigrants who are suspected of committing crimes.

  • Separation ordinances place no restriction on a law enforcement officer’s authority to arrest people who are suspected of committing crimes.
  • They place no restriction on an officer’s authority to ask for identification and arrest people who fail to establish their identity.
  • They place no restriction on an officer’s authority to investigate immigration-related crimes.
  • They place no restriction on an officer’s authority to ask about and record country of birth.
  • They specifically authorize local cooperation with federal immigration officials on joint criminal investigations.

Fear of deportation too often prevents immigrants from seeking protection from law enforcement and impedes an effective government response to victims of crime. The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services notes that criminals are known to target immigrants because their reluctance to report crimes is well-known. Our research at The Advocates for Human Rights shows that human traffickers prey upon the vulnerabilities of their victims, including fear of deportation and that fear of deportation has a powerful silencing effect on immigrant victims of domestic violence. It is the obligation of the State to ensure that these crime victims can seek police protection, regardless of whether these victims are lawfully in the United States.

Separation ordinances help cities carefully balance the need to cooperate with federal immigration officials against the need to ensure that everyone has meaningful access to security of the person, due process, and equal protection before the law.

It is true that sometimes noncitizens who are accused of crimes don’t face a trial or sentence in the United States. But it’s ICE’s own practices – not community policing policies – which are to blame. Informal ICE detainer requests – at issue in the San Francisco case – have sometimes meant that people facing criminal charges are turned over to ICE before they go to trial, depriving local communities of the opportunity to try, convict and sentence individuals in the rush to keep deportation numbers high.

For years ICE has sent “detainer requests” to local law enforcement asking them to hold onto people who would otherwise be released for an additional 48 hours instead of seeking an arrest warrant. Why? Well, it’s certainly easier to send a fax to a jail than present a case in front of a judge.

But the detainer request is not just easier than a warrant. These requests amount to fishing expeditions where ICE gets time to interrogate without counsel foreign-born people in police custody to determine whether there is probable cause that the individual is deportable.

ICE is so used to circumventing the constitution that, when they actually already have a basis for a warrant – which they certainly did in San Francisco – they don’t bother.

Why have local communities begun to question ICE’s unconstitutional detention requests? First, this practice created an incentive to arrest people who look or sound “foreign” without probable cause on any crime, knowing that the individual would be turned over to ICE before any constitutional violation came to light. This is no accident: ICE’s early sales pitch to local law enforcement touted that ICE could “make people disappear” even when local cops lacked evidence of criminal activity.

This bad practice was exacerbated by the implementation of the Secure Communities program, which began pushing our detainer requests on a much larger scale. While awaiting pickup by ICE, local communities were expected to house detainees and to assume liability both for any injury that happened while the person was in custody and for unlawful imprisonment if that person was in fact a US citizen. In 2014, a federal court in Oregon held that these informal requests did not pass constitutional muster and violated the 4th Amendment.

As Hector Villagra, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said in a recent op-ed, “we should not shred the Constitution in the face of tragedy.”

By: Michele Garnett MacKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of advocacy.

Federal Court Enjoins Detention of Central American Mothers and Children

Child from HondurasA federal court has enjoined the Department of Homeland Security from detaining Central American mothers and children for the purpose of deterring future immigration. While the order in the case of RILR v. Johnson, released February 20, 2015, was somewhat overshadowed by an order from a different federal judge (whose ruling on February 16 put the administration’s plans for deferred action on hold), the opinion in RILR signals one of the most significant challenges to federal immigration detention policy, which has been largely unfettered by either legal or budgetary constraints.

The order by Judge James Boasberg, U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia, also granted provisional class certification to Central American mothers and children who have been or will be detained in ICE family detention facilities while seeking asylum. Read more about the case at the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project, which is lead counsel for the case. You can hear a great 3-minute discussion of the opinion by Melissa Crow, legal director of the American Immigration Council.

Detention-as-deterrence is an affront to human rights. It violates longstanding standards against arbitrary detention by failing to afford the detained mothers and children an individual custody determination and by depriving liberty as a result of the exercise of the right to seek asylum from persecution. It is contrary to the guidance of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which allows for detention of asylum seekers only as a last resort. And it flies in the face of our obligations under international refugee law by deterring refugees from seeking asylum at all.

Judge Boasberg’s opinion bears close reading. One by one, the judge dismantles the stack of assumptions upon which the government has built its precarious justification for imprisoning families who have fled to this country seeking asylum.

At the outset the judge makes clear that the government’s decision to imprison arriving asylum seeker families rests not on any threat to public safety or risk of flight posed by the individual mothers and their children. Instead, U.S. immigration authorities’ decision to detain arriving families “reflects a desire to deter” the flight of others.

That the government is detaining families in order to deter asylum seekers from seeking protection has been of grave concern to The Advocates for Human Rights, as we pointed out in a statement made to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year:

…[T]he Administration’s … decision to continue the detention of families fleeing to the United States in search of asylum is of grave concern. Just days before the announcement of administrative relief for undocumented Americans, the Administration reiterated its commitment to the imprisonment of families seeking asylum by confirming it plans to open the massive Dilley, Texas family detention center before the end of the year. This action not only violates the obligation to protect the family, but raises serious concerns about the rights to freedom from arbitrary detention and due process of law. The Administration’s detention of families, deliberately designed to deter asylum seekers from seeking protection, also violates our obligations under the Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

In his opinion, Judge Boasberg looks the Constitution directly in the face, so to speak, and finds that family detention designed to deter future migration gives the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause a black eye.

Quoting Zadvydas v. Davis, the Supreme Court’s 2001 case that put an end to indefinite detention of immigrants, Judge Boasberg notes that the Court has repeatedly recognized that “[f]reedom from imprisonment – from government custody, detention, or other forms of physical restraint – lies at the heart of the liberty that Clause protects.” He reminds us that “in keeping with this fundamental precept, the Zadvydas Court explained that “government detention violates [the Due Process Clause] unless the detention is ordered in a criminal proceeding with adequate procedural protections, or, in certain special and narrow nonpunitive circumstances, where a special justification, such as harm-threatening mental illness, outweighs the individual’s constitutionally protected interest in avoiding physical restraint.” 533 U.S. at 690.

Immigration detention is civil detention, or as the judge puts it, “non-punitive in nature.” As a result, it bears few of the procedural safeguards of the criminal detention system (and many indicia that it violates international standards against arbitrary detention). There is no right to an attorney, no independent review of the decision to detain. At the same time, for those confined within the walls of the hundreds of county jails, ICE detention centers, and private prisons that hold upwards of 34,000 immigrants every day, it is without doubt a deprivation of liberty.

The Advocates submitted a laundry list of human rights violations attendant with U.S. immigration detention policies to the UN’s Human Rights Council, which will review the U.S. human rights record later this year.

Finding the detention of mothers and children to be civil, the judge poses the relevant question: “whether the Government’s justification for detention is sufficiently “special” to outweigh Plaintiffs’ protected liberty interest.” There are times, the judge notes, when the reason for detention has been sufficient justification; for instance preventing flight or protecting the community from individuals found to be especially dangerous.

But in this case, where the government seeks to use its detention authority to deter mass migration, it misses the mark. Relying the Supreme Court’s decision in Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407 (2002) the judge reminds us that when it comes to civil detention such general deterrence justifications are impermissible.

In a particularly piercing analysis, Judge Boasberg puts paid to the oft-repeated “they don’t have rights” myth relied upon by the government:

In an attempt to evade this rigorous inquiry, [the Government] note[s] that the present class is comprised of noncitizens, whose entry into this country was unlawful. It follows, they say, that “Plaintiffs have extremely limited, if any, due process rights regarding [their] custody determinations.”… The Government is mistaken.

While it is true that “certain constitutional protections are unavailable to aliens outside of our geographic border,” the Supreme Court has made clear that “once an alien enters the country, the legal circumstance changes, for the Due Process Clause applies to all ‘persons’ within the United States, including aliens, whether their presence here is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent.” Zadvydas, 533 U.S. at 693 [further citations omitted]….It is clear, then, that they are entitled to the protection of the Due Process Clause, especially when it comes to their liberty.

The court finally deals with what has too often been a trump card when it comes to limiting the human rights of immigrants: [cue ominous music] national security.

The judge first notes that the government has “essentially conceded that the recent surge in detention during a period of mass migration is not mere happenstance, but instead reflects a desire to deter such migration. Indeed, they state that ICE officials are required to follow the binding precedent contained in Matter of D-J-, 23 I. & N. Dec. 572 (2003)…”

Matter of D-J-, issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft in April 2003, upheld the categorical detention of all Haitians attempting to seek asylum by boat. Relying on the same specious arguments that underpin the Government’s decision to imprison Central American families, the Attorney General found that mass migration was, in and of itself, a national security threat because it “heavily taxed Coast Guard capacity and capabilities.” Matter of D-J-, 23 I. & N. Dec. 572, 578.

At the time the Attorney General issued Matter of D-J-, I despaired of the blind eye turned to individual liberty – not to mention the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. It’s taken over a decade to see a court not shy away from the dread specter of “national security” and instead presses for evidence that the purported national security risk is, in fact, well-founded:

Even assuming that general deterrence could, under certain circumstances, constitute a permissible justification for such detention, the Court finds the Government’s interest here particularly insubstantial. It seeks to deter future mass immigration; but to what end? It claims that such Central American immigration implicates “national security interests,” (citing D-J-) but when pressed to elaborate, the principal thrust of its explanation is economic in nature. It argues, in essence, that such migrations force ICE to “divert resources from other important security concerns” and “relocate” their employees. The Government has not, however, proffered any evidence that this reallocation of resources would leave the agency somehow short-staffed or weakened. Defendants have not conjured up the specter of an influx’s overwhelming the country’s borders or wreaking havoc in southwestern cities. The simple fact that increased immigration takes up government resources cannot necessarily make its deterrence a matter of national security, with all the attendant deference such characterization entails. (Opinion at 35-36).

Rightly, when it comes to depriving persons of their fundamental right to liberty, the judge demands more of the Government: “when its chosen vehicle [to deter mass migration] demands significant deprivation of liberty, it cannot be justified by mere lip service.”

By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates’ director of Advocacy 

A Deeper Look at Asylum “Fraud”

A Deeper Look at Asylum “Fraud”
Michele Garnett McKenzie
Michele Garnett McKenzie

Today, rather than considering whether American compassion is being taken advantage of by nefarious asylum seekers exploiting holes in our country’s immigration system, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee should ask whether our asylum system ensures that everyone who seeks asylum on our shores is met with a “strong asylum system that adjudicates cases in a fair and timely manner.”

The United States’ commitment to those who flee to our shores seeking protection from persecution on account of their beliefs or identities is at the core of who we are as Americans. This promise was formalized when the United States committed itself to the Refugee Convention and Protocol and, in turn, when it enacted the 1980 Refugee Act. That system allows people who have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or particular social group.

Keeping fraud out of the asylum system is essential to ensure that bona fide asylum seekers receive the protection they need. As Eleanor Acer, director of the Refugee Protection Program at Human Rights First, testified today, “A strong asylum and immigration system that adjudicates cases in a fair and timely manner and includes effective tools for fighting abuse, is essential both for ensuring the integrity of the U.S. immigration process as well as for protecting refugees from return to places of persecution. If individuals or groups are defrauding the asylum system, it hurts everyone, and steps should be taken to counter those abuses and punish the perpetrators. U.S. authorities have a range of effective tools to address abuses.”

But a strong, robust, and properly resourced asylum protection system combined with a reformed immigration system that grants opportunities to workers and timely reunites families – not more barriers to protection – is the answer to combatting fraud. There is a real need for Congress to direct more resources to our immigration court system, which now has just 249 judges nationwide.

While several witnesses at today’s hearing recounted cases of fraud, they offered no solutions beyond interdiction and detention – strategies that are designed not to protect refugees but instead to keep them from making their claims for protection in the first place.

We can see the failure of this deterrence approach. Today, asylum seekers are arbitrarily detained and jailed upon entry, penalizing and deterring them from seeking asylum in the United States. The system charged with adjudicating asylum claims is under-resourced, leaving some people waiting behind bars for weeks or months while immigration officials determine whether they have “credible fear” and will get a chance to ask for asylum in the United States or they will be summarily deported. Nonetheless, asylum seekers continue to ask for our protection.

The Advocates for Human Rights began working with asylum seekers soon after the Refugee Act took effect. In the three decades that followed, we have represented asylum seekers as they struggled to establish not only their claims for protection but their credibility. We see their tears – tears of pain as they recount the horrors they fled and of relief when they are granted asylum. They’re telling the truth.

By: Michele Garnett McKenziedirector of advocacy for The Advocates for Human Rights

The Right Thing to Do

The Right Thing to Do

iStock image1

by Deepinder Singh Mayell

“The time to fix our broken immigration system is now.”  President Obama made this statement on the Senate floor in May 2007.  Over five years later, “now” might be getting a little closer.  With a large Latino turnout being credited as a key part of President Obama’s re-election this November, immigration reform is poised to take center stage in the national spotlight in the coming years.  Of newcomers to the United States, the President stated, “it is the constant flow of immigrants that help make America what it is. […] To this day America reaps incredible economic rewards because we remain a magnet for the best and brightest from across the globe.”[1] Both parties are changing their tone and easing their anti-immigrant rhetoric and on June 15, 2012, President Obama signed a memo calling for deferred action for certain undocumented young people who came to the United States as children.

But despite the improvement in the political climate, it is important to note that immigrants have faced an increasingly hostile environment in the last several years and a policy of rampant enforcement that is alarming.   The policies regarding deportation and detention have resulted in the unfair punishment of thousands seeking a new life in the United States.

  • Since 2009, the average number of deportations per year is about 400,000 which is double the annual average during George W. Bush’s first term and thirty per cent more that the average when he left office.[2]
  • In 2011, Minnesota deported 3,215 individuals which is nearly a fifty per cent increase from 2006.[3]
  • In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security held a record-breaking 429,000 immigrants, including children, in over 250 facilities across the country, and currently maintains a daily capacity of 33,400 beds [4]
  • About half of all immigrants held in detention have no criminal record at all.[5]

These policies are also not consistent with international human rights law.[6] For example, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), non-citizens within the United States have the right to liberty and security of person, freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention, and are entitled to prompt review of their detention by an independent court.[7] The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants has reported that “the United States detention and deportation system for migrants lacks the kinds of safeguards that prevent certain deportation decisions and the detention of certain immigrants from being arbitrary within the ICCPR.”[8]

The conditions in detention facilities can be appalling and detainees have complained about grossly inadequate health care, physical and sexual abuse, overcrowding, and discrimination.[9]  In addition, NGOs have reported the use of shackling, tasers, and solitary confinement for disciplinary purposes and the lack of proper medication, nutrition, and recreation.[10]  The immigrants The Advocates works with, people who are fleeing persecution in their home countries and hoping to gain asylum in the United States, are particularly vulnerable.  Asylum seekers are often victims of violence, sexual assault, and torture and being held in a prison-like setting can have significant long-term mental health consequences.

Although The Advocates’ asylum program does far better than the average in helping people obtain asylum, the asylum grant rate in our Immigration Court is one of the lowest in the country at seventeen percent, while the national average is sixty-one percent.[11] Persons seeking asylum often have to wait up to three years to have their cases decided by a judge.  Meanwhile, they cannot reunite with their families who they have often left behind when escaping the horrors of persecution and torture.

Recently, President Obama stated, “As long as I’m president, I will not give up on this issue, not only because it’s the right thing to do for our economy … not just because it’s the right thing to do for our security, but because it’s the right thing to do period.”[12] It is more important than ever, in this changing environment, for those who believe in positive immigration reform to push to define “the right thing to do.”  The Advocates for Human Rights has advocated locally and nationally to ensure the rights of thousands of immigrants and has stood against mandatory detention.  In the coming years, The Advocates will continue to push to change our immigration system so that it does not focus on punishment and imprisonment but instead secures dignity, fairness, and human rights for all.

What you can go to get involved:

Call your Congressperson to tell them it is time to create fair and humane immigration laws and procedures that reflect international norms of human rights.

Volunteer for The Advocates as pro bono counsel to represent low-income asylum seekers from Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The Advocates has been doing this work for almost thirty years and has mentor attorneys and resources to help you.  If you are an attorney or interpreter and would like to help on an asylum case please contact Sarah Brenes at sbrenes@advrights.org.

Donate to The Advocates to support the asylum program and the other work we do to help immigrants. These new Americans make valuable contributions to our communities and culture, are committed to our country, and have the same human rights as our immigrant ancestors did.

Join the Detention Watch Network!  The Advocates is a steering committee member of the Detention Watch Network which is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to educate the public and policy makers about the immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for humane reform so that all who come to our shores receive fair and humane treatment.  Click here to get involved: http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/

Deepinder Singh Mayell is the Director of the Refugee & Immigrant Program at The Advocates for Human Rights.


[2] Executive Office for Immigration Review, FY2011 Statistical Yearbook, February 2012

[6] See International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, arts. 2, 7, 9, 10, 13, and 14.

[7] ICCPR, art. 9.

[8] Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, ¶ 24 (2008).

[11] Executive Office for Immigration Review, FY2011 Statistical Year Book, February 2012

Change is good: Give to the Max Day

Change is good: Give to the Max Day

by Mary Scott

From my office at The Advocates for Human Rights, I see promising signs of change every day. I see the relief in the eyes of our successful asylum clients, who can now live in safety and freedom from persecution. In pictures, I see the smiling faces of Nepali schoolchildren who, years ago, did not have the opportunity to choose an education over physical labor. I see the reports indicating that new laws overseas are working to protect women from domestic violence. I also see signs of change that may be less obvious. One of those signs is the success of “Give to the Max Day.”

I belong to the generation of Americans that stopped buying stamps. Our checkbooks collect dust in the back of our closets’ highest shelves. I pay my bills online; I send emails or instant messages to my friends and family; I order products online with a credit card. My checkbook is outdated by at least two addresses. For the rest of the 20-somethings of my generation, and likely the generations to follow, charitable giving will not mean sending a check in the mail.

In 2009, GiveMN hosted the first ever “Give to the Max Day,” a virtual fundraising event to benefit small and mid-sized nonprofit organizations throughout the state of Minnesota. While users can give to their favorite organizations at any time using GiveMN, “Give to the Max Day” aims to raise as much money as possible in a 24-hour period. So, since 2009, one day every year, Minnesotans get online and give, and they turn out in great numbers. Last year, more than 47,000 donors raised over $13 million for Minnesota nonprofits.

As my peers in this generation, our children, and the generations to follow eventually become the new leaders of the philanthropic community, charitable giving will change. The success of “Give to the Max Day” is a promising sign that even as it changes, charitable giving will stay strong.

But giving online is more than just the “next big thing” in charitable giving. For small nonprofit organizations like The Advocates, online fundraisers like “Give to the Max Day” are a much-needed method of effective, low-cost outreach than can both garner support and raise awareness about our work. The cost of each dollar raised online is minimal compared to the costs of grant writing and direct mail. Although it may seem like an insignificant change, the amount saved per dollar by fundraising online means that The Advocates can put more of our resources directly into our work to promote and protect human rights. More resources means more positive change that brings us closer to The Advocates’ vision of a world in which every individual lives with dignity, freedom, justice, and peace.

So, please join me and thousands of others on “Give to the Max Day”, and take part in the future of charitable giving.

Mary Scott is the Development & Communications Assistant at The Advocates for Human Rights.

“I have a bullet in my foot from trying to vote!”

“I have a bullet in my foot from trying to vote!”

By Michele Garnett McKenzie

I’m sitting in my office, catching up with a former client. A member of the political opposition who fled Cameroon and sought asylum nearly a decade ago, she had stopped by to show me her new U.S. passport. Our talk turned to the November elections—she was so proud to finally be an American citizen and to be voting for the first time in the United States.

But when I mentioned that Minnesotans will be deciding whether to amend the constitution to require government-issued photo identification to vote, she became angry. I didn’t have to frame the issue for her. I didn’t have to give her any background about the Voting Rights Act or explain that this is a voter restriction proposal that threatens to disenfranchise thousands of Minnesotans. Before I could even tell her that The Advocates opposes the measure her eyes flashed and her voice became stern.

“You have no idea how precious the right to vote is,” she told me. “I have a bullet in my foot from trying to vote!”

Our clients have a first-hand understanding of what freedom and oppression mean

Her reaction started me thinking about how the passage of the amendments could affect the many people we’ve helped to find asylum from persecution over the past thirty years. Every one of our clients has a unique story of their flight from their homelands where they feared persecution, torture, or death on account of their identities and beliefs. I thought of Joe, one of my first clients at The Advocates. Born in Zimbabwe, where President Mugabe had long proclaimed homosexuals to be “worse than dogs or pigs,” Joe struggled for years to hide his identity out of fear of arrest, torture, and execution at the hands of the government. Arriving in the United States, he sought asylum on the basis of his sexual orientation. What might passage of the marriage restriction amendment say to him?

Immigrants have helped shape Minnesota’s proud tradition of protecting religious freedom

Some proponents of the marriage amendment assert that their religious freedom is at stake, but they ignore Minnesota’s proud tradition of protecting religious freedom—a tradition rooted in the experiences of early settlers, but very much alive to this day.

In 1988, Eli Hershberger and 13 other members of an Amish religious community were ticketed for operating black, horse-drawn buggies on a public highway in Fillmore County, Minnesota, without displaying an orange-red reflective triangle, as Minnesota law requires for slow-moving vehicles. Hershberger and the others were unwilling to compromise their belief that displaying the bright sign on their buggies would mean placing their faith in worldly symbols rather than in God.

The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld Hershberger’s challenge to the law, noting that “the early settlers of this region were of varied sects, may have endured religious intolerance in their native countries and were thus sensitive to religious differences among them.” Those experiences, the court observed, shaped the text of the liberty of conscience clause in the Minnesota Constitution:

The right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience shall never be infringed; nor shall any man be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any religious or ecclesiastical ministry, against his consent; nor shall any control of or interference with the rights of conscience be permitted, or any preference be given by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship . . . .

(Minnesota Constitution, Article I, § 16.) “This language is of a distinctively stronger character than the federal counterpart [in the First Amendment],” the court wrote, precluding “even an infringement on or an interferencewith religious freedom.” The court therefore allowed Hershberger and the others to use their proposed alternative: simple reflective tape and a lighted red lantern. The Kentucky Supreme Court, in contrast, just struck down a similar challenge brought by another group of Amish plaintiffs, ruling that the Kentucky Constitution’s protections for freedom of conscience go no further than the United States Constitution’s.

These rigorous protections should reassure people who object on religious grounds to same-sex marriage; no constitutional amendment is necessary to protect their religious freedom in Minnesota.

The proposed voter restriction amendment threatens religious freedom

Religious liberty might not be the first thing that comes to mind in discussions of voting procedures. But in the United States, the fundamental right to vote has been shaped by our respect for religious freedom. Most countries hold elections on weekends, while Election Day in the United States falls on a Tuesday, to accommodate Sabbath observances.

Religious freedom is at stake, because Minnesota’s proposed voting amendment would require all voters voting in person to present valid, government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot. The word “photographic” is key. According to a recent report by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, some Christians believe photographs violate the Ten Commandments. “Identification laws that require individuals to be photographed … may infringe upon these individuals’ First Amendment right to exercise their religious beliefs freely.” Mississippi—the only state to place a voter ID requirement in its constitution—has an exemption for religious objectors, as do similar laws in Indiana and Pennsylvania. Minnesota’s amendment, however, has no such exception.

As further evidence of Minnesota’s long history of broadly accommodating the free exercise of religion, Minn. Stat. 171.071 allows a religious objector to obtain a non-photographic state-issued identification card. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, more than 100 people have these non-photographic Minnesota IDs.

But the proposed voting procedures amendment would erode Minnesota’s tradition of promoting religious freedom. The proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution would not allow any exemptions for religious objectors. It would require “[a]ll voters voting in person [to] present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot.” “All voters” means no exceptions. So the more specific voting procedures amendment would trump the rigorous freedom of conscience clause in the Minnesota Constitution.

People who object on religious grounds to being photographed have a fundamental right to participate in our political process. The proposed amendment was poorly thought-out and fails to take into account our state’s long tradition of honoring freedom of conscience.

The Advocates for Human Rights opposes both amendments, and we are working hard to defeat them. My friend from Cameroon’s story inspires me as we work together to try and defeat the two Minnesota constitutional amendments that would restrict the right to vote and freedom to marry. Have you talked to your family, friends, and neighbors about how the proposed voter restriction amendment would affect voting rights, or how the proposed marriage restriction amendment would limit the freedom to marry? Could you make time this weekend to make calls or doorknock to help defeat the amendments? Visit Our Vote, Our Future and Minnesotans United for All Families for more information on how you can help.

Michele Garnett McKenzie is Advocacy Director at The Advocates for Human Rights. Thanks to staff attorney Amy Bergquist for the constitutional research.