The ACLU-MN is working hard to promote the civil rights and civil liberties of all Minnesotans during the COVID-19 outbreak. We are partnering with other organizations and nonprofits to urge state leaders to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities — particularly immigrants in detention, and adults and youth who are incarcerated. The virus will spread rapidly in such close quarters, endangering inmates, staff and the larger community.
We support public health measures that are recommended by scientists and public health experts, and we believe those measures should not encroach on our civil liberties any more than is absolutely necessary. Here is what we're doing to make sure that our state’s response to COVID-19 is just, equitable, and in keeping with the U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions:
March 6, 2020
- Sent a letter to Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening, urging him to immediately develop an evidence-based, aggressive strategy to prevent and manage COVID-19 in the Nobles County Jail. The ACLU-MN asks him to fulfill his legal and moral duty to protect everyone’s health.
March 18, 2020
- Released a letter to Governor Tim Walz and other officials to take creative and thoughtful action in responding to the Coronavirus crisis to avoid exacerbating long-standing race-based and wealth-based inequalities in our state.
- Wrote a letter to Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott urging him to immediately develop an evidence-based, aggressive strategy to prevent and manage COVID-19 in the jail, to fulfill his legal and moral duty to protect those in custody and those who work in the jail.
March 20, 2020
- Joined more than 100 nonprofits in a letter to Gov. Walz and Lt. Gov. Flanagan, asking them to protect the most financially vulnerable during the COVID-19 outbreak by delaying collection of court debt. We also asked them to help stop the spread of the virus by taking actions such as reinstating driver’s licenses so people can use their own vehicles and minimize the use of public transportation.
March 26, 2020
- Joined the Advocates for Human Rights and other allies in asking ICE’s St. Paul Field Office to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to keep people safe. The letter urges ICE to by release immigrants from administrative detention; halt arrests and requests for holds; and stop ICE enforcement.
- Urged the Department of Corrections to publicly report COVID statistics in prisons.
- Sent a letter to state lawmakers asking them to protect the right to a speedy trial. No one should be locked up without due process. That’s one of our most fundamental civil liberties.
March 27, 2020
- Issued a statement in response to Governor Tim Walz's "stay at home" order, providing recommendations for supporting public health and preserving civil liberties for all Minnesotans — and particularly those who may be disproportionately impacted by potential enforcement actions.
March 30, 2020
- Joined the Legal Rights Center in calling on state officials to make sure kids in juvenile detention are safe from COVID-19. The coalition urged state officials to take several steps including: halt new admissions to juvenile detention; release kids whenever possible; continue access to legal counsel; provide education and treatment for children who can’t leave the facilities; and stop sending kids back to detention for technical violations.
March 31, 2020
- Sent a letter to the Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge acknowledging the positive steps already taken toward decreasing inmate populations, and asking the Court to take additional steps to release more people from correctional facilities to keep people and our communities safe.
April 1, 2020
- Joined the Asian American Organizing Project and 26 Asian Minnesotan organizations in condemning all acts of harassment, discrimination and bias against our Asian community. Terrible stories of racism and violent acts of bigotry against the Asian community have risen following the outbreak of COVID-19, leaving our community members worried about their safety.
- Released a statement in response to the establishment of a "hotline" for reporting violations of Governor Walz's stay at home order. We have concerns that use of this hotline will reflect and potentially amplify racial disparities that already exist in 911 calls, traffic enforcement, and enforcement of low-level violations that often occur in public areas. That's why we continue to urge voluntary compliance with the order rather than criminal enforcement.
April 3, 2020
- Sent a letter to the head of the Department of Human Services asking them to track and publicly provide data about confirmed cases of COVID-19 in secure facilities. In times of crisis, transparency and communication from government officials is essential.
- Sent a letter to the Watonwan County Sheriff and St. James officials informing them that many residents who carpool to food plants or who may have large extended families or people who share households are not violating the Stay at Home order. We asked them to meet actual violations of the executive order with warnings rather than arrests or sending people to ICE.
April 6, 2020
- Wrote a letter to the House Public Safety Committee and Chair Mariani, asking them to act quickly to ensure the health of those who are incarcerated, particularly those who are elderly and those with chronic health conditions; and to make sure attorneys can meet with their clients in person where possible, and where it’s not possible, to visit remotely – without fees or limits on phone calls or videoconferences.
April 8, 2020
- Urged the Legislature today to ensure election officials are ready to do what’s necessary to protect our right to vote while keeping people safe from COVID-19. In a time of crisis, it is more critical than ever that the fundamental right to vote is protected.
April 10, 2020
- Sent a Data Practices request to Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening. We are asking him to provide his plans to reduce the COVID-19 outbreak in the jail, as well as information about any punishments of inmates or grievances filed by them related to Coronavirus.
- Filed a second request asking the state Department of Human Services to provide information about COVID-19 cases in secure facilities. People are worried about their loved ones in these facilities, and they’re not getting any information.
April 15, 2020
- Filed a petition against the Department of Corrections to keep prisoners at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Moose Lake safe from the rapidly spreading Coronavirus. The prison is failing to fulfill its constitutional duty to keep people safe.
April 22, 2020
- The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU-MN and 11 other state affiliates asked officials today to release more detailed and localized data about race, ethnicity and other demographic measures of COVID-19 testing, infections and deaths, to the extent consistent with privacy laws. The letter also calls for the equitable distribution of personal protective and medical equipment.
April 23, 2020
- Published op-ed in the Star Tribune calling for government transparency during the COVID-19 crisis. While we understand that government must balance public safety with individual liberties during an emergency, this balancing act must not happen behind closed doors. Government must be transparent and accountable to the people, now more than ever.
April 29, 2020
- The ACLU-MN and 34 other organizations urged Gov. Walz to sign a draft Executive Order, which would require the Department of Corrections to immediately identify and release people to home confinement during the outbreak if they have a safe place to go and don't present an immediate threat to public safety. People would need to be at high risk from COVID-19, have left than a year left on their sentences or be in custody for a technical violation.
April 30, 2020
- The ACLU-MN joined the ACLU and other affiliates in a nationwide call for more correctional data around COVID-19 infection risks. ACLU-MN asked the Governor and DOC Commissioner in a letter for data on COVID-19 rates for people in prisons and workers, the risk to surrounding communities, actions they could take to reduce the risk for all, grievances by inmates and complaints by staff and employee access to protective devices.
May 4, 2020
- The ACLU-MN asked Gov. Walz and the Legislature to address the inequitable and unsafe manner in which remote learning is being provided to Minnesota’s students during the COVID-19 crisis, including making sure that adequate and uniform privacy protections are in place to protect students when they are engaged in remote learning.
- The ACLU-MN testified in support of a bill to track how law enforcement spends its forfeiture proceeds to ensure the funds are used for appropriate purposes.
May 7, 2020
- We joined with MNCOGI to call for greater governmental transparency in the age of COVID-19, and to urge civic groups and individuals to join us through letters-to-the-editor, social media, phone calls and attendance at Zoom hearings.
May 8, 2020
- GMRJP coordinator Julio Zelaya testified to urge local governments to consider policies and assistance programs that will offer relief to all residents, regardless of their immigration status, in response to the federal stimulus leaving out families with mixed-immigration status.
June 5, 2020
The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Minnesota, and Faegre Drinker LLP have sued Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon to make voting safer in Minnesota in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the NAACP and individual voters, asks that absentee ballots be sent to all registered voters, and that a requirement that forces voters to get a witness to sign their ballot envelope be suspended due to risk of exposure to COVID-19.
July 31, 2020
- Sent a letter to leaders of the Minnesota Legislature to renew our calls for improved student data privacy protections. Students should never be required to surrender their privacy or consent to being spied upon as a condition of receiving a constitutionally guaranteed education, and that principle holds especially true during the COVID-19 crisis, when remote learning may be the only option.
December 14, 2020
- Sent a letter to Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota COVID Ethics Collaborative, Governor Tim Walz, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, and Commissioner of Corrections Paul Schnell urging them to prioritize people who are incarcerated for vaccination.