Growing up in R.I. as a Latino in the late 60’s and early 70’s, when there were few Latinos here, I often experienced and witnessed blatant discrimination and injustice. I was never able to ignore it. One of my first jobs in R.I. was a 2 year Vista Volunteer community organization position. This position made me even more aware and sensitive to the way our society and our political system took advantage of the poor and less fortunate. Although, the community organization position ended, my desire to fight for justice, equality, and the rights of others was burning like a fire inside of me. It will probably never go out. Of course, knowing who your allies are is important in any struggle. Over the years I have witnessed the great work that the ACLU has done. I was involved in many of the same causes. Whether it was protecting the constitutional rights of undocumented immigrants, fighting to end racial profiling or stopping the efforts to make voting more difficult, the ACLU is always there. It made sense to me that I should join and support them. So in 2011, I finally made the decision to formally become a member. My only regret was that I waited so long.
The most memorable event that sticks out in my mind was the Guatemalan Van case of 2006, where twelve Guatemalans were going to work at about 6:00 a.m. in a van on Route 95 in Richmond, R.I. They were stopped by R.I. State Police, supposedly for changing lanes without giving a signal. After being stopped the Police determined that the driver had all the proper credentials to drive, nevertheless the Police insisted on requiring each passenger to produce documentation of their immigration status, and proceeded to search each of them 3 times. After the immigration authorities refused to respond the Police officer threatened to shoot anyone who tried to leave, and forced the driver to follow him to the immigration headquarters. Although the case was lost, the ACLU sent a strong message to the police by filing suit and bringing this type of blatant racial profiling police practice and disregard for the rights of immigrants to the public.
Another incident that is burned into my memory is the Jason Ng case against the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, R.I. Mr. Ng was a Chinese national and computer system engineer from New York, who died while he was being held at Wyatt on a deportation order on behalf of the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Prior to his death, Mr. Ng was brutalized and denied adequate medical care for liver cancer and a fractured spine. It was reported in December of 2012, that the ACLU was successful in getting the defendants to agree to a multi-million dollar settlement to satisfy a wrongful-death lawsuit by the family of a prisoner who.
The ACLU is so much more than lawsuits. For example, for the last 5 years I have personally witnessed the great work that the ACLU does in the community and at the Statehouse. By working in the community the ACLU is able to help individuals and organizations to constructively channel their efforts and energies at solving many of the social and legal issues that continue to plague our society today. At the Statehouse, the ACLU does a fantastic job at educating and informing our legislators about the laws that are needed, or not needed. This is done through meticulous analysis of the bills that are presented, and through testimony at numerous hearings.
If your freedom and rights are important to you, then I urge you to please consider joining the ACLU.
Biographical Information: Roberto's legal experience spans 27 years in the private and public sectors, as a partner and practicing attorney, and with the Providence Housing Court, where he served as Chief Judge until January of 2007. Roberto's law practice focuses primarily in the areas of immigration. He enjoys helping individuals become United States Citizens, as well as providing advice on immigration issues. Roberto also represents businesses seeking to hire foreign nationals. He is active in the International Institute of R.I., the RI Coalition of Immigrants and Refugees, Coalition of Advocates for Student Opportunities (CASO), the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and in the local Latino community. He received his Juris Doctorate in 1986 from the New England School of Law, and his Masters Degree in Counseling and a Bachelor's Degree in Social Work from Rhode Island College.