Celebrating freedom, this summer and year-round.
For many of us, summer is a time to slow down, to gather with family and friends at cookouts or baseball games, or to watch fireworks or march in parades. Summer is when we enjoy the freedom to take a little more time for the people and events that matter most to us.
Summer is also when we celebrate many of the fights for freedom that have and continue to define this country. Juneteenth, Immigrant Heritage Month, Independence Day, and Pride Month each celebrate the legacy of individuals and communities who have fought to hold this country accountable to its commitment to liberty and justice for all. As we celebrate how far we have come, we acknowledge that the progress towards freedom for all is not linear–it can expand for some even as we lose ground for others. We have more work to do. Summer is marked by celebrating all of those who have worked tirelessly–and who are still working–to help this country live up to its ideals.
This year, from Juneteenth to the Fourth of July, FWD.us has been commemorating this legacy and #CelebratingFreedom by sharing stories and uplifting resources that highlight how our ongoing fight for freedom has advanced the work to reform our failed criminal justice and immigration systems.
Across our diverse backgrounds and our political, racial, and religious differences, whether we live in small towns or big cities, we find hope in the strong consensus among us that fighting for more freedom and more justice is always the right way forward. Nearly 80% of voters support criminal justice reform–including nearly three quarters of self-identified Republican voters. A striking majority–70% of all voters, and 6 in 10 Republican voters–believe it is important to reduce the number of people in jail and prison. Fully 7 in 10 Americans believe that immigrants strengthen our country–a marked increase from fewer than half the population just ten years ago. And roughly 8 in 10 Americans are in favor of creating legal pathways that would protect undocumented immigrants.
Recent wins for immigration and criminal justice reform, from our nation’s capital to statehouses and ballot boxes across the county, demonstrate the depth of Americans’ commitment to the pursuit of freedom.
As state legislative sessions came to a close, lawmakers in Minnesota and New Mexico passed a series of major criminal justice reforms, including restoring voting rights for people with prior convictions, ending juvenile life without parole, and other significant reforms impacting sentencing and early release that will help more people come home to their loved ones and reenter their communities. In New York, lawmakers voted to adopt the Clean Slate Act, which will automatically seal records for certain offenses after a set period of time. Nebraska signed into law a package of criminal justice reforms that will reduce prison overcrowding, including modifying penalties for people who have been convicted of multiple nonviolent offenses. These wins for freedom build on many other bipartisan criminal justice reforms passed in recent years, both in states led by Democrats as well as in states with Republican supermajorities, like Louisiana and Mississippi.
Voters have also very clearly embraced criminal justice reform and rejected failed “tough-on-crime” rhetoric and tactics at the ballot box. This includes wins in places like Jacksonville, Florida, where a balanced public safety message prevailed in a heated mayoral election and contributed to a change in mayoral party affiliation for the first time in 30 years, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where voters ousted a longstanding District Attorney known for their punitive approach in favor of a candidate vowing reform. Voters in the Midwest rejected failed pro-mass-incarceration rhetoric to elect both Judge Janet Protasiewicz to Wisconsin’s State Supreme Court, and Brandon Johnson for Mayor of Chicago in elections that were portrayed as referendums on public safety.
These decisive victories reinforced what we saw in the midterm elections when balanced candidates and messages prevailed in a wide range of communities. Senator John Fetterman stood by his record supporting criminal justice reform amidst constant attacks to win his PA senate seat. Candidates in Illinois who spoke openly about the Pretrial Fairness Act and the continued need for justice reform performed well. Voters very clearly understand that the fight for freedom means following the evidence on what truly advances public safety instead of returning to failed policies that have hurt our families and communities.
This month marked 11 years of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that since it began has expanded crucial protections like work authorization and protection from deportation to more than 800,000 young people. The White House called on Congress to provide permanent protections and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, and shared stories of the profound impact this policy has had on people’s ability to work, pursue education, and build families in the country they call home. The fight to protect DACA recipients and their freedom to live and build their lives without the threat of deportation is urgent and ongoing. The need for Congress to act is great: DACA is under active litigation threat, already impacting young Dreamers, and renewals could stop as soon as next year. If renewals were to stop, FWD.us estimates that as many as 1,000 jobs would be lost and more than 1,000 U.S. citizen family members of DACA recipients would face family separation each and every day for two years.
This June, we also observed five years since federal courts mandated the end to the previous administration’s forced family separation policy, calling to mind the basic and essential freedom of families to be together. This, coupled with the resounding Supreme Court victory in June 2022, finally put to rest the cruel Remain in Mexico policy and enabled the current Administration to move forward on the reversal of inhumane policies with regards to people seeking safety. The White House, along with hundreds of jurisdictions across the country, celebrated Immigrant Heritage Month and World Refugee Day, honoring the long tradition of people and families seeking freedom, safety, and opportunity in this country. As President Biden remarked, “We honor our ancestors by working to keep the torch of liberty lit and held high.”
Our love for freedom unites us. Recent wins for immigration and criminal justice reforms show how more freedom is possible when we continue to fight to live up to the best of our shared values: policies that keep families safe and together, and strengthen communities and our entire country. As we observe Independence Day and close out our #CelebratingFreedom series, we leave you with two stories of what freedom means to two unique individuals and families: the story of Rob Rich, a father who raised six sons while incarcerated; and Zeinabou, a human rights advocate with the Mauritanian Network for Human Rights in the U.S., who has dedicated her life to protecting Black Mauritanians in the U.S. and beyond. These stories illustrate how expanding freedom helps our communities thrive–we hope they inspire you to join us in #CelebratingFreedom today, and continuing to fight for more freedom all year long.