Lisa Hajjar President
Laura Dewey Vice-President
Leslie Steinmetz Secretary
John Sonquist Treasurer
We function as a local resource and a link to the ACLU of Southern California Affiliate by opening our meetings to the public for people who believe their constitutional rights are being violated or compromised. While we are unable to intervene in issues that require adjudication because we are a voluntary civic organization (not a legal aid society), we are pledged to assist people in understanding their rights and facilitating the community’s awareness about the all-important relationship among the law, politics and society.
The ACLU of Southern California Santa Barbara Chapter, established in 1963, is going strong.
Our board includes many long-time members who provide invaluable historical memory that helps shape our current campaigns and activities. In 2012, one of our great stalwarts and a local icon of progressive activism, Selma Rubin, passed away at the age of 96. Many board members are active in other local organizations as well, and this facilitates our networking and collaborations on issues relating to the common good.
Every year, we host a Garden Party in September, which is open to the public and provides delightful opportunities for locals to meet and mingle in a bucolic setting. Our invited speakers captivate and enlighten attendees about topic of contemporary significance, and we take the opportunity to honor a First Amendment Hero—someone from the community whose rights-defending work is outstanding, and a Chapter Activist—one of our members whose efforts have gone above and beyond the call of duty. For example, in 2011, we honored Bradley Currey, one of our Chapter’s founders and a former president who remains active as an emeritus board member and whose efforts to inform people about the ACLU and to sign up new members—especially students at UC Santa Barbara where he frequently tables—are unparalleled. We advertise the date, time and location of our annual Garden Party in the local media, and we encourage you to attend this year and every year!
We organize fall and spring forums every year in the Faulkner Room of the Santa Barbara Public Library. The topics of recent forums include the impact of the “war on terror” on civil liberties, the effects of immigration policy and law enforcement on local communities, and issues arising from incarceration and limited resources for rehabilitation in Santa Barbara County. These forums, which are advertised in the local media and generally attract broad audiences, demonstrate our deep commitment to public education and the stimulation of civic activism.
Our longest ongoing activity (since 1972) focuses on conditions in the local jail. As a result of negotiations between our Legal Committee and the County Sheriff’s office, monitoring access was granted for an ACLU Ombuds to receive letters or phone calls and to meet jailed individuals who seek our assistance. For years, this role was filled by one of our board members, James Robertson. When he retired from the position of Ombuds, we engaged the service of Laura Ronchietto, who also serves on our board. Our Ombuds serves as our “eyes” on the jail, and helps us understand conditions and problems from the perspectives of prisoners and the Sheriff’s office.
One issue of contemporary significance that we are monitoring is the national Secure Communities (S-Comm) deportation program. S-Comm was ostensibly designed to target “serious criminal offenders” for quick deportation, and relies on information sharing between local police and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to the government, S-Comm is a simple and common sense way to carry out ICE’s priorities …Under Secure Communities, the FBI automatically sends the fingerprints to ICE to check against its immigration databases. If these checks reveal that an individual is unlawfully present in the United States or otherwise removable due to a criminal conviction, ICE takes enforcement action – prioritizing the removal of individuals who present the most significant threats to public safety as determined by the severity of their crime, their criminal history, and other factors – as well as those who have repeatedly violated immigration laws.
However, in practice, S-Comm has deviated sharply from its stated objective; ICE’s own statistics reveal that 7 out of 10 of the thousands of people residing in California who have been deported were low-level offenders or innocent of any crime other than lacking documentation. In Santa Barbara County, between January 2010 when the program was initiated and July 2012, 1,576 people have been deported through S-Comm. According to our allies at PUEBLO, S-Comm has ensnared immigrants who were arrested for selling ice cream without a permit and has even led to the deportation of victims of domestic violence who called police for help. Our board is concerned about the adverse impact of S-Comm on Latinos in our community, and the ways in which the program compromises the efficacy of the police.
Another issue in which we are engaged is the Gang Injunction because it ineluctably manifests as racial profiling. This civil injunction would enjoin alleged gang members from associating with one another in certain areas of the city, wearing gang clothing or tattoos, having firearms or weapons, using drugs or alcohol, doing graffiti, trespassing, and recruiting or intimidating people in those zones. Board member Nayra Pacheco is our primary point person on this issue. Gang injunctions, which have been implemented all over California, are being challenged by the ACLU and community groups, including ours, because they criminalize some behavior on the basis of status (i.e., presumptive gang membership) that is otherwise considered lawful.

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