Suit Filed by Families Separated While Seeking Asylum

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For Immediate Release:

Legal Aid Justice Center: Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg,
Muslim Advocates: Scott Simpson,
Nicky Vogt,

Dora v. Sessions cites extreme trauma at the hands of U.S. immigration authorities

Washington, D.C. – Today, on behalf of 29 plaintiffs forcibly separated from their children under the Trump administration’s cruel and inhumane “zero tolerance” policy, Muslim Advocates and the Legal Aid Justice Center filed Dora v. Sessions, a lawsuit against the Trump administration for wrongfully depriving the plaintiffs of their right to apply for asylum by forcing them through “credible fear interviews,” while they were traumatized and incapable of participating in those interviews.

Because of the disabling trauma of family separation, parents were confused, disoriented, unable to focus on anything other than the whereabouts and well-being of their children, and unable to adequately articulate their experiences to the interviewing officers. As a result, the plaintiffs received negative credible fear determinations, and now face immediate deportation. The complaint raises claims under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.

Among other things, the complaint seeks a court order compelling the federal government to vacate separated parents’ negative credible fear determinations and to provide them a new opportunity for a credible fear interview with reasonable accommodations for the psychological conditions caused by forcible family separation.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Ronald Vitiello, Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship, Immigration Services L. Francis Cissna, and Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Kevin K. McAleenan.

Since June 2018, the Trump administration has separated over 3,000 children from their parents. Today, hundreds remain separated.

According to Sirine Shebaya, senior staff attorney at Muslim Advocates: “The parents in this lawsuit came to the United States fleeing unspeakable violence and seeking shelter for themselves and their children. They brought their children here to protect them from harm. Many had promised their children that they were bringing them to a better place. But instead, their children were forcibly snatched away from them. Meanwhile, they were forced through the most critical interview of their lives – and their only opportunity at applying for asylum – without regard to the extreme psychological trauma they were suffering and are continuing to suffer. The harm these cruel and inhumane policies have caused our plaintiffs is hard to capture to its full extent – it is beyond anything we would ever have imagined. Parents were en masse experiencing debilitating symptoms that stopped them from being able to participate in their own asylum interviews. They deserve better, and should at the very least be given a new opportunity to articulate their claims for asylum in the United States.”

According to Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia: “The legal theory behind this case is simple.  The government’s policy of forcibly separating asylum-seeking families was deeply traumatizing to the parents as well as the children.  The government cannot then turn around and ask asylum-seeking parents, all by themselves, unrepresented by lawyers, debilitated by trauma, to articulate complex legal claims without any support or accommodation.”

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Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths. Learn more at

Legal Aid Justice Center is a statewide Virginia nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen the voices of low-income communities and root out the inequities that keep people in poverty. We provide legal support to immigrant communities facing legal crises and use advocacy and impact litigation to fight back against ICE enforcement and detention abuses.  More information is available at .

LAJC Denounces ORR Collusion with ICE

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LAJC just submitted a public comment urging the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency responsible for caring for unaccompanied minors and for reuniting them with their families through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), to abandon a dangerous agreement with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that would turn ORR into an arm of ICE.

Under this agreement, ORR and DHS will provide ICE with confidential information not only about the caregiver seeking to reunite with a minor in ORR custody, but about every person in their entire household.  This will enable ICE to check every person’s immigration status and use the information to detain and deport the adults trying to reunite with their children.

This agreement and the procedures that have been proposed to implement it use children as bait to detain and deport their family members. It is in direct conflict with ORR’s mission to protect child welfare, as well as being a gross erosion of privacy rights and further evidence that this Administration is only paying lip service to child protection in order to enact practices that hurt children and keep families apart.

LAJC is committed to protecting immigrants and refugees and keeping kids out of jail. While attention has been focused on the horrible impacts of family separation on the border, the administration has been quietly continuing its project of preventing families from reuniting, a project that started over a year ago and one that LAJC has been watching and fighting against for years.

LAJC_Comments on OMB No 0970-0278 Sponsorship Review Procedures (002)


Alexandria Sheriff Begins to Move Away from ICE

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For Immediate Release: July 10, 2018

Contact: Mia Taylor,, 571-269-8107
Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg,, 703-720-5605

Alexandria Sheriff Moves to Reduce Collaboration with ICE, But More Is Needed
Immigrants’ Rights Groups Demand Alexandria Jail Sever Ties With ICE

ALEXANDRIA, VA: Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne’s recent commitment to reduce collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a positive step forward, but more changes are needed in order to live up to the City’s Statement on Inclusiveness.

Sheriff Lawhorne announced yesterday that for immigrants serving a sentence imposed by a judge, his jail will no longer honor ICE requests to hold them past their scheduled release dates.  For immigrants ordered released on bond, or eligible for release after time served, the jail will only hold them for 16 hours for ICE (or up to 24 hours in extenuating circumstances), no matter what day of the week. Sheriff Lawhorne will also institute timekeeping policies and regular weekly audits to make sure no one is held beyond the time allowed under this new policy.

Previously, the jail would honor ICE requests to hold both pretrial and post-conviction immigrant detainees for up to two business days past their scheduled release dates, not including weekends and holidays. In 2017, the Alexandria City Jail turned over 105 people to ICE, up nearly double from 2016.  More than half of those were merely awaiting trial and had not been convicted of a crime. Alexandria also allows ICE to use its jail as a short-term holding facility for immigrants arrested anywhere at all, a practice which will not change after yesterday’s announcement.

“Thank you, Sheriff, for your willingness to engage with the community and revisit your practices. We are encouraged that you describe this as a ‘first step.’ And it is a step in the right direction,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program. “But 16 extra hours in jail for immigrants is still 16 hours too long. Immigrants should be treated no differently than citizens: after they post bail, they should be allowed to walk out the front door.”

“There is no law that compels the jail to transfer people to ICE,” said Mia Taylor, organizer with Tenants and Workers United.  “Local law enforcement should not be enforcing the laws of a broken federal immigration system.”

“We are hearing a tremendous outpouring of concern from our friends and neighbors in Alexandria,” said Jonathan Krall from Grassroots Alexandria. “The jail is one place where we have the power to make a change.”

On June 18, Alexandria’s other jail, the Northern Virginia Regional Juvenile Detention Center, announced that, effective September, it will stop renting beds to the federal government to detain unaccompanied immigrant children.  But with yesterday’s announcement, the Alexandria Adult Detention Center will continue to act as a short-term holding facility for ICE, both for immigrants arrested by local police in Alexandria and for immigrants arrested by ICE anywhere else.

ICE has come under fire for inhumane tactics including racial profiling, warrantless entry into homes, and the breaking up of families. The time has come for Alexandria to entirely sever ties with that agency.

Tenants and Workers United builds power in low-income, immigrant communities of color to improve the quality of our lives in Northern Virginia. We organize and support people to be agents of change in their own lives by addressing the issues they care about.

Legal Aid Justice Center is a statewide Virginia nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen the voices of low-income communities and root out the inequities that keep people in poverty.  We provide legal support to immigrant communities facing legal crises, and use advocacy and impact litigation to fight back against ICE enforcement and detention abuses.  Our ‘De-ICE Virginia’ campaign seeks to sever the ties between local law enforcement and ICE.

Grassroots Alexandria promotes local, non-partisan, long-term conversations, community education and action towards positive solutions by those who are moved to act on their conscience.

Pretrial Brief Filed in Fluvanna Contempt Case

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Today, the Legal Aid Justice Center and its pro bono partners, WileyRein LLP, Kelly & Crandall and Consumer Litigation Associates file a Pretrial brief in support of their Motion to Show Cause Why the Defendants Should Not Be Held in Contempt for their ongoing failure to provide adequate medical care at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.

The brief calls for VDOC’s persistent non-compliance with the Consent Order entered in February 2016 to end. The women incarcerated at FCCW continue to suffer from woefully inadequate medical care in patent breach of the obligations the Defendants willingly assumed under the provisions of the Settlement Agreement reached by the parties and approved and entered by this Court as a Consent Order on February 5, 2016.

Even before this Court entered the Consent Order, VDOC officials knew that its for-profit contractor, Armor Correctional Healthcare (“Armor”) was failing. Persistent understaffing led to staff turnover, failures in training and supervision, miscommunications, deadly medical mistakes and, ultimately, to a culture of unhappiness and uncaring that permeates FCCW’s health care operations to this day. A critical lack of leadership at FCCW was allowed to fester. Essentially, at every turn, and at every level, VDOC failed to hold the contractor accountable for providing an appropriate level of care at FCCW.

Now, approaching two and one-half years after the Settlement Agreement was approved, and some nine months after the filing of the Show Cause Motion, the Plaintiffs still experience deprivation or mismanagement of care for their serious illnesses, unalleviated chronic pain and a substantial risk of harm, including preventable, premature death, attributable to the VDOC’s consistent failure to provide constitutionally-adequate medical care at FCCW as mandated by the Consent Order.

Plaintiffs’ Pretrial Brief in support of their Motion for Contempt

Rally at U.S. Customs and Border Protection

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Contact Edgar Aranda-Yanoc

Legal Aid Justice Center will hold a rally demanding justice for Claudia Patricia Gómez González, and the end of the practice of separating children from their parents at the headquarters of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NEW, at 11am on Wednesday, May 30th.

On May 23, 2018, the use of excessive force by border patrol agents ended in the death of Claudia Patricia Gómez González.  She was coming to Alexandria, Virginia in search of a better life.  Instead she was killed. 

Meanwhile, our government is literally ripping children out of the arms of their mothers and locking them in separate cages.  The administration says it’s to discourage asylum seekers from coming to the U.S.  We say it’s inhumane.

Join us for a peaceful protest in front of CBP headquarters at 11am tomorrow.  We will gather on 14th St NW, between Pennsylvania and Constitution Ave to demand CBP end its use of excessive force, and demand the administration end the inhumane practice of separating children from their parents.  All are welcome.

Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program is at the forefront of the fight for the rights and fair treatment of immigrant children in Virginia.

We’ve handled over 150 cases of Central American unaccompanied minors applying for legal status so they can remain in the United States.

We’ve brought a lawsuit against ICE challenging their practice of detaining immigrants in remote detention centers across the country and bouncing them like pinballs from one detention center to the next, without taking their family status and the location of their children into account.  That lawsuit is currently pending.

This month we filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of an immigrant youth who was being held in detention, apart from his family, for nine months with no end date in sight and no clear path for his family to get him out of detention.  Rather than try to defend their actions and policies in court, the government released him two weeks after we filed the case

Court Rules on Suspension of Driver’s Licenses

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Contact Tim Wallace 

May 23, 2018 –
Today a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Stinnie v. Holcomb, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statutes automatically suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines. In a 2 to 1 decision, the panel dismissed the appeal for technical reasons and remanded the case back to the district court to allow Plaintiffs to amend their complaint. The dissenting judge, Chief Judge Roger Gregory, would have reversed the district court’s dismissal altogether and ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs on all three jurisdictional issues, concluding that DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb was a proper defendant.

“The Fourth Circuit’s decision today keeps this case alive,” said Angela Ciolfi, Director of Litigation & Advocacy for the Legal Aid Justice Center, “We will keep fighting to win relief for the million souls and their families caught up in Virginia’s unconstitutional license-for-payment scheme.”

Click here to read the decision. (pdf)


Stinnie v. Holcomb is a class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute automatically suspending the driver’s licenses of hundreds of thousands of Virginia drivers who cannot afford to pay court costs and fines.  Every year, Virginia traps hundreds of thousands of low-income residents in debt and poverty by automatically suspending their driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines, regardless of whether they could afford to pay.  As of December 2017, nearly one million Virginia drivers currently have at least one suspension on their license for failure to pay, including approximately 650,000 people whose licenses are suspended solely for not paying court costs and fines.  For many drivers, that means giving up their only mode of transportation to work, forcing them to choose between losing their jobs and risking jail time for driving on a suspended license.  These long-suffering Virginia drivers will continue to endure a never-ending cycle of debt and incarceration, so long as the law forces them to choose between driving illegally and forsaking the needs of their families. 

In October 2016, the Virginia Attorney General’s office filed a Motion to Dismiss on behalf of the Defendant, DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb.  On March 13, 2017, the U.S. District Court granted the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, citing jurisdictional reasons and concluding that the Commissioner was not a proper defendant. In dismissing the Plaintiffs’ complaint for jurisdictional reasons, the Court made it clear that it was not blessing the constitutionality of Virginia’s license-for-payment system, stating:  “Virginia law leads state judges to automatically suspend a defendant’s driver’s license for nonpayment of court fees and fines, regardless of his ability to pay. That unflinching command may very well violate Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.”  (Mem. Opinion p. 35)  The case will now go back to the district court to give the Plaintiffs an opportunity to amend their complaint.

The podcast, Independent Study, did an in-depth profile of the case.  You can download the podcast—complete with interviews of lead Plaintiff Damian Stinnie and Charlottesville/Albemarle jail superintendent Martin Kumer—on SoundCloud ( or on iTunes ( 

To read more about the lawsuit, or to download the briefs, go to

About the Legal Aid Justice Center

The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, civil rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide. 

Court green-lights lawsuit challenging ICE

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Hallie Ryan
Managing Attorney, Legal Aid Justice Center

A federal court has given the green light to a lawsuit challenging ICE’s use of warrantless home invasions and vehicle stops, denying the government’s Motion to Dismiss and allowing the lawsuit to continue into discovery.  This is one of the first rulings of its kind since President Trump took office.

The case stems from two separate instances last year in Arlington and Fairfax County, Virginia, and alleges that a team of ICE agents employed illegal search and seizure methods along with racial profiling to detain nine residents.

In the first incident, ICE agents invaded the Arlington County home of a U.S. citizen without a warrant in the early morning hours.  The plaintiffs allege that the agents went from bedroom to bedroom, including barging in on a sleeping grandmother and child, rounding up all of the Latino occupants without any reason to believe they had committed any crime or violated the immigration laws.  The agents then asked the homeowner if there were other “Spanish families” in the neighborhood.  

In the second incident, two Latino Fairfax County men were heading to work when an unmarked SUV blocked their car from pulling out of its parking spot.  The lawsuit alleges that the same ICE agents jumped out of the SUV and proceeded to detain the men without any reason to believe they had committed any crime or violated immigration laws. 

The lawsuit, filed last fall by the Legal Aid Justice Center and the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP against the ICE agents involved in the two incidents, contends that the plaintiffs’ 4th and 5th Amendment constitutional rights were violated when they were stopped and their homes searched, and that the plaintiffs were targets of these illegal searches because of their Latino ethnicity.  (The 4th Amendment to the Constitution protects people in the U.S. against unreasonable search and seizure, ensuring that law enforcement must have a credible reason to believe that the person is engaged in illegal activity in order to search and/or detain him. The equal protection clause of the 5th Amendment protects against racial profiling by law enforcement).

In the April 5th ruling, the U.S. District Court in Alexandria found that the plaintiffs have stated a case that their constitutional rights were violated by the ICE agents, and found that the court has proper jurisdiction over the case and can hear it. 

Read the legal ruling (PDF)


About Legal Aid Justice Center:
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out the inequities that keep people in poverty through litigation, policy advocacy, and community organizing. LAJC’s Immigration Advocacy Program supports low-income immigrants in their efforts to find justice and fair treatment. 

DREAMers File Suit Seeking DACA Extension

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On Tuesday, November 21, 2017, two immigrant youth from Virginia filed a lawsuit seeking to have their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) reinstated and extended for two years. Represented pro bono by the Legal Aid Justice Center and the law firm of Outten and Golden, they argue that the Trump Administration’s decision to deny them the opportunity to once more renew DACA violated their constitutional rights.

“DACA changed my life,” said 26-year-old Nurimaro Park of Fairfax, Virginia. “Before DACA, I didn’t see much of a future for myself. I was always anxious, my job prospects were poor, and I couldn’t even get a driver’s license. Even though my family came to this country from Korea to give me a better life, I didn’t see myself being able to have much of a life at all.”

Mr. Park’s second two-year DACA extension had recently lapsed and he was saving money to pay for the $495 renewal fee, when on September 5, 2017—without any warning—the Trump Administration announced that the entire DACA program would be phased out beginning in March 2018. But for Mr. Park, and some 50,000 other immigrants like him1 whose DACA extensions had already lapsed and who were still making plans to renew, the program was being cancelled effective immediately, robbing them of a fair chance to renew and plunging their lives into uncertainty. “I was crushed,” Mr. Park said. “I had no warning. If the government had told me this was coming on September 5, I could have taken steps to renew before then.”

“Nurimaro Park played by the rules, but the Trump Administration changed the rules on him,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program. “Fifty thousand other Dreamers just like him were wrongly denied their right to two more years of DACA. To change a deadline without telling people that you are going to do it, and then denying them DACA because they missed the deadline that they had no way of knowing about, violates a basic sense of fair play and decency, and it also violates the Constitution.”

“Many people think that the deadline for Congress to pass a Dream Act is March 5, 2018, because when that’s when the whole DACA program will begin to sunset,” said Mary Bauer, executive director of the Virginia-based Legal Aid Justice Center. “But for Nurimaro Park, and for some 50,000 others, the DACA program has already ended. The emergency has already begun.”

David Lopez, a Washington, D.C.-based partner in Outten & Golden LLP, which concentrates on employee rights, added, “The Administration’s decision to change the DACA renewal policies abruptly and without notice illegally pushed thousands of productive workers who followed the rules into the shadows without legal status.” Outten & Golden recently launched a Resistance Task Force to protect individuals like Mr. Park from efforts by the current administration to curtail workplace protections.

DACA Lawsuit (pdf)

About the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program: The Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program supports low-income immigrants in their efforts to find justice and fair treatment. In addition to representing clients with individual legal issues, we promote systemic reforms to reduce the abuse and exploitation of immigrants, and advocate for state and local policies that promote integration and protect immigrants from aggressive immigration enforcement. Our work aims to end the mass detention and deportation of immigrants, with a special focus on child refugees fleeing violence and individuals and communities targeted for enforcement by overzealous federal immigration agents.

About Outten & Golden LLP: Outten & Golden LLP, a 50-plus attorney law firm, represents employees in individual and class action litigation challenging employment discrimination, wage theft, and other workplace injustices. As advocates for workplace fairness, our passion and profession is to help advance the goals of employees and protect their rights against injustices. Outten & Golden LLP also recently launched a Legal Resistance Task Force to protect the workplace rights of the people and communities targeted by the actions and policies of the Trump Administration. Details: and


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Join Legal Aid Justice Center in Advocating for a Clean Dream Act Now!

The decision to cancel the DACA program has left over 12,000 DREAMers in Virginia at risk of losing their legal status and being deported to countries they barely remember. Now, Congress is debating a DREAM ACT that would protect these promising young people, and give them a legal path to a green card and eventually the U.S. citizenship that they deserve.  But anti-immigrant forces in Congress are mobilizing to prevent any DREAM ACT from passing, or attach “poison pill” anti-immigrant riders like increased funding for ICE deportation force, and punitive measures against undocumented communities. DREAMers do not want a solution that would protect them, but at the same time deport their parents.  This is why Legal Aid Justice Center is calling for a CLEAN DREAM ACT NOW!

How you can get involved:

Help your neighbors sign CLEAN DREAM ACT NOW postcards to Virginia’s senators and Congressional representatives!

We have printed up hundreds of postcards to Virginia’s senators and Congressional representatives, and we need your help in making sure that their constituents sign the postcards.  Come by our offices to pick up blank postcards for all your friends and neighbors to sign.
Postcards are available Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm at:

Legal Aid Justice Center – Falls Church
6066 Leesburg Pike #520, Falls Church, VA 22041

Legal Aid Justice Center – Charlottesville
1000 Preston Ave, Suite A, Charlottesville, VA 22903

Legal Aid Justice Center – Richmond
123 E Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219

Please stop by as soon as possible, meet our staff, pick up a dozen postcards, and bring them to any community events or just go door-to-door on your block.  We need the signed postcards back in our offices no later than November 21.  Our goal is to have 1,280 postcards signed: one for every DACA student currently studying and paying in-state tuition at a Virginia public college or university.

Attend a CLEAN DREAM ACT NOW event in your community!

Monday, November 6, 7:00pm
Legal Aid Justice Center, 6066 Leesburg Pike #520, Falls Church. VA 22041

Saturday, November 11, 2:00pm
Claremont Elementary School cafeteria
4700 S. Chesterfield Rd., Arlington, VA 22206

Wednesday, November 15, 5:30pm
Jefferson School City Center Auditorium
223 4th St NW, Charlottesville, VA 22903

Join our lobby day in Washington, DC on Capitol Hill!

We will be visiting Virginia’s senators and Congressional representatives at their offices on Capitol Hill, delivering the postcards and urging them to fight for a CLEAN DREAM ACT NOW!

Wednesday, Novemebr 29, 9:30am – 1:00pm (lunch will be provided)
Location TBA

If you are interested in attending please contact Edgar at or
Contessa at  Virginia residents only, please, as space is limited.

Show up for DREAMers

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Activism!  Moon-bounce!  Face Painting!  Food!  Music!   Advocacy!

Come Celebrate the Diversity and Cohesiveness of our Community.
October 21, 2017 from 2-5pm
Glencarlyn Park, Picnic Shelter 2
Arlington, Virginia 

Please join LAJC for an afternoon of fun and community building.  Learn about the community action and legislative advocacy steps you can take to support immigrants. Hear about the legal actions LAJC is taking to protect our immigrant communities.  Enjoy food, music, games, and a day in the park with LAJC staff, volunteers, supporters, community members, and well-wishers. 

This is a free, all ages event but for planning purposes please Register Here.

While our offices remain closed to walk-ins, we're still here to help. Contact Us