As soon as news broke that President Trump's temporary travel ban resulted in people with valid visas and green cards being detained in airports across the country this weekend, Americans on social media immediately spread the word about how important it was to donate to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to show their support. But there were just as many people wondering exactly what the ACLU does and how, if at all, their hard earned cash donations could help people. So just how are those donations used?
Donations to the ACLU can help in tangible ways. The non-profit has been around since 1919, just after World War I, when then Attorney General Mitchell Palmer ordered that anyone seen as "radical" or who could possibly affiliated with the Communist Party be rounded up, arrested, and even deported in what are now known as "The Palmer Raids." People were arrested and searched without evidence or a warrant, which goes against the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, in the name of the government's fear of a communist takeover.
The organization was formed by concerned citizens in the wake of these arrests to assist people who were allegedly targeted by the government without just cause. Since then, the ACLU has been dedicated to representing people who are charged with crimes or who are otherwise discriminated against in ways that are possibly unconstitutional. For example, if you're gay and denied housing, fired for breastfeeding at work, denied medical care in prison, or have a police officer search your car without probable cause, the ACLU is who you call. The organization is basically the Ghostbusters of civil rights.
There is a national branch of the ACLU and each state has an affiliate chapter. Right now, many Americans are encouraging donations to the ACLU because they fear that Trump's policies are pushing the limits of what is constitutional and that Americans are in danger of having their civil rights abused. Just like many Americans were during the Palmer Raids or, for example, throughout the 1950s, when people were arrested during the Red Scare without any real evidence against them under the guidance of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, there are real fears of a historical repeat here, at the beginning of 2017.
Over the weekend, Trump's temporary travel ban drew the attention of many Americans — and the ACLU — because people who had green cards or student visas were being detained in airports without "cause," or any other reason except that they had traveled from countries deemed by the Trump administration to be affiliated with terrorist groups.
The ACLU's fear that the ban would trample civil rights was backed up by former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was fired on Monday night for saying that she wasn't sure the ban was constitutional. The ACLU filed lawsuits in a few cities in the name of people who were allegedly detained unlawfully over the weekend. The ACLU is already to jump in whenever they see an abuse of power.
As a result, the organization raised around $25 million over the weekend from donors who wanted to pitch in. Just for some context, the ACLU's average annual fundraising is around $4 million. That's how many Americans were worried this weekend about protecting civil rights under Trump's leadership.
That money will be used to provide attorneys for people and pay for everything that goes into filing those lawsuits. But it's not just about the travel ban. There are ongoing cases and ACLU lawsuits advocating for people in prison, protecting LGBTQ rights, and investigating police brutality. The organization also runs civil rights awareness and education campaigns.
Basically, the ACLU just has the backs of people that either cannot afford to hire their own lawyers for civil suits or are otherwise marginalized by the government. It ensures that Americans' civil liberties, protected by the Constitution, are never violated. And when those rights are violated, the ACLU calls foul.
Right now, while the new administration is still trying to figure out how to legally implement some of its more radical policies, the ACLU is an important watchdog for many Americans — and since it's only funded by donations, it could use all the help it can get.