The ACLU of Southern California recently released its 2011 Annual Report. Below is a welcome letter from ACLU/SC Executive Director Hector Villagra.

Novelist Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”  One of this year’s more prominent questions appeared on the cover of TIME magazine:  Is the Constitution still relevant?  You don’t need to consult an expert to answer this question; the people we advocated for this past year can tell you how much constitutional rights still do matter.

There’s Jane Doe, a 16-year-old startled by a tap on the shoulder during an advanced placement exam.  An administrator wanted to let her know she had not paid $86 fee for the exam -- a requirement for completion of the course.  And her name was written on the chalkboard for weeks because her family could not afford required Spanish workbooks.  We upheld her right to a free education, so that education remains a right for all, not a commodity for sale.

There’s Robert Rosebrock, a 68-year-old Army veteran who, while protesting the misuse of the Veterans Administration’s West Los Angeles campus, was cited and arrested when he hung the U.S. flag upside down to express his outrage at the administration’s failure to provide military veterans with the housing and care to which they are entitled.  We upheld his right to free speech to prevent the government from discriminating against those who disagree with it.     

There’s Sharail Reed, a 13-year-old dreaming of becoming the first in her family to attend college.  She found herself enrolled in a U.S. history class without a permanent teacher, taught by a string of substitute teachers with no lesson plan, and still learning about the Articles of Confederation midway through the school year.  We upheld her right to an equal education by preventing state budget cuts from being disproportionately felt by low-income students of color. 

There’s Jose Antonio Franco, a 30-year old immigration detainee with cognitive disabilities who languished in detention for five years because he is incompetent to represent himself and the government refused to get him legal help.  We upheld his right to due process by requiring the federal government to find him a lawyer to ensure that he receives a fair hearing.   

There’s Manuel Vasquez, a 20-year-old working two jobs, seven days a week to support his family.  Law enforcement subjected him to arrest for walking down the street at night.  We upheld his right to due process, preventing the government from binding individuals to a gang injunction without providing a hearing and proving their gang involvement.  

Try telling these individuals, and countless others like them, that constitutional rights have no meaning in their lives.  But these successes don’t just show the continuing significance of the Constitution.  They remind us that our rights matter only if we remain committed to securing them. 

So join us not only in celebrating our rights, but in doing the hard work of converting them into reality.  Join us in finishing the work we’ve started this year.  Join us in ensuring that immigrant workers receive a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.  Join us in preventing state budget cuts from decimating education, health care, and social services.  Join us in ensuring that schools protect students from unlawful harassment and bullying.  Join us in preventing immigration enforcement from encouraging racial profiling and undermining public safety.  Join us in ensuring the federal government provides for its homeless veterans.  Join us in ending the death penalty.

Join us in promoting liberty, equality, and justice for all.  

Hector O. Villagra
Executive Director
ACLU of Southern California