ACLU board member discusses voting, immigration rights
Gabrielle Penna | Monday, March 8, 2021
Grace Chan McKibben, executive director at the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, spoke at a Zoom lecture Friday, discussing the work of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) regarding voting and immigration rights in America.
ACLU of Notre Dame co-sponsored the event, along with the Black Law Students Association and American Constitution Society.
McKibben currently serves on the Illinois and National Boards for the ACLU, a nonprofit organization that defends American citizen’s rights and liberties regardless of background.
To begin the lecture, McKibben focused on the progress the ACLU Illinois board made recently, discussing the recent police reform bill on cash bailouts, passed two weeks ago in Illinois. The bill eliminated the cash bail system, which disproportionally affected low-income people of color who were unable to pay bail.
There has been a recent push in the ACLU to focus on the criminal justice system and the treatment of immigrants, McKibben said.
Looking back at past and present administrations, McKibben emphasized the ACLU board’s continued support for programs helping children of immigrants both at the border and beyond.
“The ACLU has not only supported the continued reauthorization of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) but also to continue this discussion with immigrant groups regarding what requires attention,” McKibben said.
The ACLU has also been working on reuniting children and parents who were separated at the border.
“The last administration did not keep very good track of children when they separated from their parents,” McKibben said.
Although the Biden administration has promised to implement policies to reunite children with their families, McKibben said this undertaking will be difficult given the previous administrations failure to keep detailed records.
The ACLU stepped in two years ago to set up a robust data analytics team to get information from immigration lawyers who were working on separation cases. Through this initiative, ACLU members and volunteers have been able to document the names and locations of children and their parents in order to reunite the separated family members.
McKibben also discussed issues relating to voter disenfranchisement in the 2020 presidential election. She specifically talked about the difficulties many senior citizens had in voting.
As a result of the pandemic, many senior living apartments opted out of serving as a polling location.
“Seniors then had to either walk to different polling places or vote through the mail,” McKibben said.
McKibben said in Chinatown, Chicago, even those who were approved for a vote by mail had difficulty overcoming the language barrier involved in order to fill out their ballot and get to the correct dropbox. McKibben and her team worked to ensure there were people who spoke Chinese at dropbox locations in order to offer assistance for those who had questions.
McKibben and her team also supplied Lyft rides for people traveling to and from voting stations, all while wearing masks and taking other COVID-19 precautions.
“Push for the change in law, but if you cannot change the system, look for practical things you can do to help others,” McKibben said.
As an immigrant who grew up in Hong Kong, McKibben said she‘s passionate about the rights and liberties afforded to every citizen in the Constitution, and she’s driven to fight for equity Americans are promised.
McKibben is particularly committed to making information accessible to everyone. She said she strives to break down political jargon into ideas and concepts people can understand.
“Whether national or local, it is still very policy-centric; people present projects on litigation and legislation, and it’s not that accessible,” McKibben said. “This is something that nationally, as well as locally, we continue to try to figure out; we look for ways we can take these concepts that I am talking to [Notre Dame] law students about and make it accessible to people that are not law students, but may care about equality, justice and inclusion.”
To bridge such divides between the policy arena and the communities these bills affect, McKibben noted the importance of clear communication. Additionally, she points out the benefits of having community members on these boards.
“We must, on a whole host of different levels, have a representation of those who understand the community’s issues,” she said.
To McKibben, justice is impossible without equal and fair representation.
“I think it is essential to note that folks that care about social justice care about democracy and access to civic engagement and civic power,” she said.
McKibben said that although it may be challenging to work with those who have differing opinions, civil liberties, equality and inclusion only comes to fruition when every person’s voice is heard.
However, this is not limited to the policy arena. As McKibben explained, freedom of speech and expression has consistently been an issue of focus for her and her colleagues. However, in regards to the current generation, she said it is even more critical to protect this freedom while also safeguarding the common good. In times where information spreads quickly, striking this balance becomes increasingly difficult.
“I do not take being able to vote or being able to participate in these conversations lightly,” McKibben said.
She reiterated the importance of those involved with organizations like the ACLU and any work in the field of justice to “be mindful of what it would look like if you didn’t have these rights in your system.”