What is the ACLU’s Freedom Cities campaign?

ACLU’s “Freedom Cities” campaign brings local activists together and provides a blueprint for local-level advocacy, in cities and counties, to defend our communities and block the worst abuses of the Trump administration. These are campaigns that will generate victories in the short term even as we work towards comprehensive protections nationwide in the long term.

“Freedom Cities” is a hugely ambitious campaign. Some of the policies that we will demand may sound legally complex but that’s because the ACLU has come up with a plan to fight the Trump administration lawfully and systematically, not just by defending each individual as they are detained, harassed, or deported.

We’re counting on volunteers like you to help local elected officials adopt the ACLU’s model local law enforcement policies and rules that will effectively counter or block cooperation with Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-refugee agenda.

How can People Power activists make their community a Freedom City?

The “Freedom Cities” campaign is a complex and powerful strategy. It requires fighting on multiple fronts with multiple tactics, but it can be scaled and sequenced to accommodate action by groups that are big or small and whether your target is city or county government.

At the heart of this strategy, People Power volunteers will put pressure on elected officials and local law enforcement officials through targeted grassroots action to urge adoption of the “Freedom Cities” nine “model” state and local law enforcement policies.

As a volunteer organizer, you don’t have to understand all the ins and outs of the legal language to advocate for these policies and rules. What you need to know and advocate for is that these are the policies and rules for law enforcement that the ACLU has determined our cities, towns, and counties need to protect Muslims, immigrants, and refugees from some of the worst abuses of the Trump administration.

Your role as a People Power activist will be to gather information on where your elected officials and local law enforcement officials stand on each of the nine “model” policies and rules and verify that they are established in writing, not just in practice.

Meeting with Elected Officials in Person

This Freedom Cities Action Guide will outline some of the major threats that members of our communities are facing as a result of the Trump agenda, and a way you can be part of the solution by engaging in grassroots action in support of the “Freedom Cities” initiative.

In-person meetings are an essential and effective tactic for pressuring an elected official or government appointee, like a chief of police. They give you an opportunity to make your case directly to your elected official or their staff and signal that this is an issue that’s very important to you and your community.

As a People Power activist, it is important you and your group introduce yourselves as ACLU People Power, or ACLU volunteers. Introducing yourself properly helps elected officials know you are concerned constituents and are community stakeholders. Don’t use language that misrepresents you or other volunteers as ACLU staff members. This is critical to our strength as a movement: As you work on your Freedom Cities campaign and other causes, your voices will be stronger as representatives of your community.

The key to a good meeting is being focused, well educated, and persistent – the purpose of the meeting isn’t to debate policy. You want to get simple, straightforward answers: Will your elected official publicly back the Freedom Cities agenda? Will they introduce or support legislation to implement it? Are they willing to work with you and the ACLU of Arizona to change pieces of their policy? You deserve straight answers from your elected officials, so ask as many times as needed to get a clear response.

Think of these meetings as a way to continue to build relationships with your elected officials. They may not have heard of People Power or ACLU’s Freedom Cities campaign or "model" policies before, so make sure to give them some background information. Below are important steps People Power groups should take if they want to meet with elected officials and their staff. If you have any questions please contact the ACLU of Arizona.

Prepare for the meeting. Before meeting with any elected or public official, you and your group need to gather as much information as you can on local immigration policy such as SB 1070, 287(g) agreements (if applicable in your city), and the ACLU Freedom Cities Nine Model Policies. If you’re pushing for a change in immigration policy, it is very important to know how your local immigration system works and what local agencies (for instance, your local police department and county sheriff) work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (commonly called "ICE").

Start with research. The first thing you'll want to know is what your police department's current policies are with respect to immigration enforcement. You may be able to download your police department's ICE protocols. These are the rules your police department has set up for working with ICE.

  • Some of the time you can find this information by visiting your city’s website and searching the local police department page for a policy manual.
  • On many occassions, however, you will have to request a copy of your police department's immigration-related policies. On your local police department webpage, search for "Request Public Records." Once you figure out how to submit a request for public records, describe the type of record you want. In this case, you're looking for "Immigration and Customs Enforcement Protocols" from the police department's policy manual. You can access the records faster if you opt to receive the records electronically.
  • Another option is requesting the records by mail. Depending on the city/county, you may have to pay if you request paper records. Occassionally, you may need to go to your police department's headquarters in person to request records. You will have to fill out a records request document and will likely have to pay a fee. Documents may be furnished to you while you wait or sent to you by mail.
  • You can also contact the ACLU of Arizona to see we have a copy of your police department's policy manual. Depending on the city, we may already have a copy of the department’s policy combined with revisions in line with the Freedom Cities Nine Model Policies. Several cities' policies are available on this website (scroll to the bottom).

Divide and conquer. It may be easiest if you divide the research tasks. For example,  two or three members from a group could read state immigration policy, another group could look over the Freedom Cities Nine Model Policies, and the last group could review local law enforcement policy.

  • Make sure to circle and highlight any wording that suggests racial profiling, racial bias, or DRO (Detention & Removal Operations). Once you’re finished reviewing the entire document, compare highlighted sections with the Freedom Cities Nine Model Policies and mark what model number(s) fit the appropriate section.
  • For example, if a policy says, “No further investigation into the person’s status is necessary, unless there is reasonable suspicion to believe the person is unlawfully present in the United States” (Mesa PD Policy Section 3), the People Power volunteer researcher would then suggest replacement of Mesa PD Policy Section 3 with the Freedom Cities Model Policy Number 5, the "Don't Ask Rule." You can review the Freedom Cities Nine Model Policies, and see examples of the Nine Model Policies as applied to several Arizona police departments' current policies, here.

Plan your meeting. Contact the office of the public official and set up a meeting as soon as your group is prepared. If your group isn’t comfortable with the model rules, you can always contact our offices for help before your meeting. Make sure to contact us before a meeting is scheduled, so we're not crunched for time.

  • You can access contact information by visiting the local police department’s website or the city government’s website (if you are searching for elected officials). Contact information such as phone numbers and emails may be found on the contact section of the website. Some cities may not have direct contact information for officials, but may have contact information of their staff or community liaisons listed. It is fine to contact elected officials through staff or liaisons.
  • Remember to properly introduce yourselves as People Power or ACLU of Arizona volunteers when you make contact with public officials. ACLU of Arizona staff has ongoing campaign/policy work with elected officials and police departments across the state. You want to be sure officials meeting with People Power volunteers do not confuse you with ACLU staff.
  • Scheduling a meeting may require strategy and patience. Groups in somes cities may hear back right away, while others may not hear back for weeks. You may have to reach out to several different people before a meeting is scheduled. You’ll likely have to accept whatever time they offer, but if you have options, choose a time that will work for the largest number of attendees – lunch time or after work tends to be best.
  • If at all possible, meet directly with your elected official or the chief of police. If you can’t get a meeting with your elected official, ask for the highest ranking staffer who can meet with you. Depending on the city, you may want to meet with the city manager or community liaison for the city or local police. Check your local city website for information on staff and their contact information.
  • Some elected officials’ staff may make unreasonable demands when scheduling a meeting. For example, they may ask you to take the meeting alongside citizens who have opposing views, to send a list of meeting attendees weeks in advance, or insist that you complete paperwork of some kind. Don’t be afraid to push back. Remember, it’s their job to meet with you! 
  • Before the meeting, decide who will be the spokesperson(s) in charge of both scheduling and making the direct ask (e.g., what you want them to do after the meeting) of the official. Everyone in your group should be prepared to briefly introduce themselves, where they live (to show they are in the elected official's district), and why they support your community becoming a Freedom City.
  • Designate a note taker in your group. Taking notes is important for your group’s strategy. You will need your notes to hold local officials accountable on any promises or agreed-to next steps.
  • Once a meeting is confirmed, plan to meet with your People Power group and create a plan of action. Please remember to contact our office and let us know the date and time of your meeting. Don’t forget to post your meeting on the People Power map.
  • Create a meeting agenda for your group and delegate who will be responsible for particular talking points during the meeting. The goal is to be as prepare as possible and feel comfortable with the information you have. Practice makes perfect!
  • Plan to meet at least 20 minutes before the scheduled meeting time at a location near the office where the meeting will take place (this could be the building’s lobby). This ensures your People Power group shows up together and on time.

Coalition building. Coalition building is one of the most important things you can do in order to have a successful meeting/campaign. As People Power, you want to align yourselves with different organizations and groups that want to make the same positive changes.

  • Research local immigrants' rights organizations in your city. Immigration is an issue that affected Arizona prior to November 8, 2016. People Power activists should make efforts to meet with and work alongside grassroots immigrants' rights organizations in your state. If you need help identifying a group, please contact the ACLU of Arizona.
  • Ask an organizer or policy expert affiliated with the local immigrants' rights group(s) to meet with your group, explain their mission, and describe a short history of the advocacy work that they have done.
  • If possible, try going over your talking points with a member of the organization. Ask them to give input on your agenda or talking points. Ask if they would be interested in attending the meeting with your group.
  • Find out where you can work together. Are any of the Freedom Cities model policies similar to any of their initiatives? Ask how People Power can assist with current campaigns.   
  • Immigrants' rights groups may be able to give you inside information on local immigration policy or offer insight on how certain elected officials feel about immigration/sanctuary cities.

Introducing your People Power group. Before any meeting, your group should practice how you will introduce yourselves to elected officials, law enforcement, and community members. The ACLU and People Power volunteers created the “elevator pitches” below to help activists introduce your group on in a variety of settings.

  • To allies/fellow activists: We are People Power, a community group that collaborates with the ACLU of Arizona. Our mission is to work with municipal leaders and allies in other groups to protect the civil rights of all people in our communities and resist policies that negatively affect our civil rights and liberties.
  • To elected officials (e.g. city council members, etc.): We are People Power, a group of concerned Arizonans that supports the American Civil Liberties Union. Our goal is to ensure that our communities are safe and welcoming places for all people. To that end, we aim to work with local leaders, community groups, and law enforcement, to ensure that the civil rights of all people are protected.
  • To law enforcement: We are People Power, a group of concerned Arizonans that is supportive of the American Civil Liberties Union. Our goal is to ensure that our communities are safe and welcoming places for all people. We support policies and practices that build trust and transparency between law enforcement and the public and protect civil rights and liberties, such as safeguards against bias and racial profiling.
  • Please note: As a People Power activist, you don’t represent the ACLU as an organization. You represent your own causes as a concerned citizen and constituent. This is critical to our strength as a movement: As you work on your Freedom Cities campaign, your voices will be stronger as representatives of your community. If anyone is looking for a comment directly from the ACLU, you can refer them to us and we can contact the appropriate ACLU representative.

Your meeting with local police or elected officials. In the meeting, everyone should offer a brief personal introduction (name, neighborhood, profession if they wish). The spokesperson for the group will then introduce People Power and present the conversation topic and issue.

  • In the interest of time, try to refrain from using a computer-based presentation. Often these types of presentations are difficult to set up and take away from potential proactive dialogue. It is better to speak from the knowledge you have attained from your research and/or share personal experiences.
  • If you’re planning on giving an example related to immigration, it is best not to share any stories you have heard second-hand, unless you are sharing reportage from a reputable news source. Focus on sharing examples and experiences you’ve directly encountered, such as stories from your immediate family. However, you are more than welcome to share statistics or research information, but be strategic about the information you share.
  • After your group has discussed the Freedom Cities model policies and shared personal experiences, the facilitator of the group should ask where the official stands on the model policies as related to the city’s current policies and practices. Ask if your local police department or elected official will back the Freedom Cities agenda. Are they willing to work with you and the ACLU of Arizona to change their policy? Your local official may be evasive, so ask as many times as you have to get a clear "yes" or "no."
  • Don’t get into arguments about the substance of the rules – it’s not your responsibility to explain or defend the nitty gritty details of these policies. Your public officials can always contact us at info@acluaz.org  if they want to talk to a policy or legal expert. It’s your job to make it clear that these policies are what the community wants and that you will work to ensure they’re adopted.
  • Police and elected officials may say they cannot change policy because of SB 1070. It is your job as People Power activists to remind officials that all of the Freedom Cities model rules are in compliance with the law.
  • If the elected official or police department does not agree with a change of policy, thank the official or officials who met with you. You will have to debrief with your People Power group and discuss next steps.
  • If the elected officials or local police department make promises to change their policy, plan on following up. Ask if you can schedule a future meeting before you go. Ask the staff to explain the process of changing their policy. What are the steps required? Who needs to approve the changes? Will there be public meetings? Ask them to give you a point of contact. You will want a staff person’s contact information to schedule follow-up meetings.

After the meeting. Report the outcome of the meeting to ACLU of Arizona staff and on social media. If the elected official agreed to back the Freedom Cities agenda, coordinate with their office to publicly announce their support. Before you are in touch with news reporters, please make sure you are in contact with the ACLU of Arizona’s communications team.

  • If they didn’t agree to change their policy, draft a short report for your records on how the meeting went and what the elected official said or didn’t say. Submit this information to the ACLU of Arizona.
  • Spread the word that you didn’t get the answer you wanted to the rest of your group by attaching the notes from the meeting and sending it via email.
  • You can also share this information on your group’s social media pages, but don’t do this until you have planned out next steps. You want to be able to tell people how they can take action as soon as they hear the bad news.
  • Plan your next move. If you didn’t get a commitment, you should escalate your tactics to increase pressure. You can encourage other constituents to follow up with calls, letters, and meetings. If you need help with planning next steps, contact the ACLU of Arizona.

What to do if you can’t get a meeting. Sometimes your elected official will refuse to meet with you or they may place unreasonable conditions on a meeting. If that’s the case, you could do a few things.

Tactic Guide: What are tactics? How do I choose?

Tactics are the actions we take in order to win campaigns. In terms of choosing which tactics to use, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on your community, your target, your activist group, and a lot of other factors. That said, here are some things to consider when choosing a tactic:

  • How friendly or hostile are your targeted officials (the people whose minds you have to change)? It’s important to calibrate your approach based on hostility level, but remember that activists often fail to exert enough pressure on officials who we see as allies. Modify tone and content of your communication based on how friendly a target is to our cause.
  • Does a tactic win over new allies? You should always be thinking about how to engage more people in your local campaign. Tactics that get positive press attention, are fun or easy for new people to do, generate a feeling of momentum, or help build a list of interested people are all great ways to engage new activists in the fight.
  • Will it work? The goal of our campaign is to win real protections for immigrants in our communities. If you’ve been using a tactic repeatedly and it’s not getting results, try something new. If you’re making headway, persevere.

Below you’ll find a list of tactics and a short description of what they are. If you click on the tactic, you’ll be taken to a document that gives you an in-depth description of the tactic, how to use it, and common pitfalls and solutions. Enjoy! Happy organizing!

Tactic: Speaking at a city council meeting/pass a resolution. Deliver your campaign demands to a captive audience with your elected officials, press, and other members of the community.

Tactic: Making calls and/or sending letters to elected officials. Communicate your message with calls or letters to your elected officials.

Tactic: Attending a town hall (offers sample questions for your elected officials). Attending a public town hall organized by your elected official is one way to voice your concerns around the issues that matter most to you and advocate for Freedom Cities policies in your jurisdiction.

Tactic: Writing letters to the editor of your local newspaper. Letters to the editor is one way to highlight the conversation about Freedom Cities in your community, bring needed attention to your campaign, and advance the press coverage of your work.

Tactic: Meeting with elected officials in person. Meet with your elected officials and make your case directly. Be persistent with getting their answer of support or otherwise.

Freedom Cities Key Terms

Undocumented Individual/Unauthorized Alien: A person who is not lawfully present in the United States. People Power should refrain from using language such as alien, criminal alien, or illegal(s) when referring to individuals without residence status. Refer to individuals as immigrants or undocumented people.

Authorized Officer: Means a member of U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), an Arizona law enforcement officer empowered by the federal government pursuant to the 287(g) program, or a member of U.S. Customs and Border Protections (CBP) authorized to determine immigration status.

Civil Immigration Violation: A violation of federal civil immigration law. Offenses include, but are not limited to:

  • Unlawful presence in the U.S.
  • A person whose VISA has expired and has not been renewed.
  • A person who seeks or engages in unauthorized employment.

Criminal Immigration Violation: Violation of a federal criminal immigration law. Offenses include, but are not limited to, smuggling a person across the border or crossing the border outside of an authorized port of entry.

Documented Individual: Person who has proof of U.S. citizenship/nationality or lawful presence such as valid visa or permanent resident card.

DRO Hold: "Detention and Removal Operations" order issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is not an official order of removal by an immigration judge.

Judicial Warrant: An arrest warrant is a written order issued by a judge or other proper judicial officer, upon probable cause, directing a law enforcement officer to arrest a particular person.

Foreign National: A person who is not a citizen of the United States.

Law Enforcement Officer: Sworn peace officer, police aide (for instance, a person acting as a civilian traffic investigator), or detention officer.

Reasonable Suspicion: Specific, articulable facts that, when considered with objective and reasonable inferences, from a basis for particularized suspicion. The requirement of particularized suspicion encompasses two elements:

  • The assessment must be based upon the totality of the circumstances; and
  • The assessment must create a reasonable suspicion that the particular person is unlawfully present in the United States.

Sanctuary City: There is no precise legal definition for sanctuary cities. Typically, sanctuary cities observe policies either set forth expressly in law (“de jure”) or observed in practice (“de facto”) that permit residence by undocumented immigrants and help them avoid deportation. One of the most common “sanctuary” policies is to decline federal requests (“detainers”) to hold arrestees in jail due to their immigration status.

Detainer: A detainer - typically issued by ICE, CBP, or DHS - is a request to hold someone in jail based on their civil immigration status, typically until a federal agent is able to apprehend the person and begin deportation proceedings. Detainers are NOT legally binding, and in fact, federal courts across the country have determined that complying with these requests is completely voluntary.

SB 1070: Arizona immigration law passed in 2010. Most of its provisions have been struck down by courts. More information about SB 1070 is available here. The Freedom Cities model policies do not conflict with SB 1070.

287(g) Agreement: Section 287(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deputize selected state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law. More information is available on the People Power Arizona Resource page.