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Va AG Declines to Appeal Habitual Drunkard Decision

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For Immediate Release

LAJC Commends Attorney General Herring’s Decision 

Charlottesville, Virginia (August 2, 2019) – The Legal Aid Justice Center commends Attorney General Herring for his decision today accepting the Fourth Circuit’s ruling regarding invalidating Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” regime.  

“We look forward to working with Virginia to implement constructive programs to address homelessness and addiction in our state, such as expanding Housing First and Addiction Recovery Treatment Services.  We also express our deep appreciation for our pro bono partner and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty for their indispensable assistance on this critical matter,” said Elaine Poon of the Legal Aid Justice Center.

“We are thrilled that Attorney General Herring has let the court decision striking down this antiquated law stand,” said Eric Tars, Legal Director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “We can all agree that no one wants to see homeless people with alcoholism on the streets, but law enforcement and public health experts agree that housing, not handcuffs, is the best, most cost-effective way of making that happen. While we celebrate today’s advancement, we look forward to working with Virginia’s legislature and executive to put those housing solutions in place-the true victory will come when all those who need housing have it.”

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4th Circuit Strikes Down Habitual Drunkard Statute

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Contact:
Elaine Poon, Managing Attorney
434-529-1816 elaine@justice4all.org

FOURTH CIRCUIT STRIKES DOWN UNCONSTITUTIONAL “HABITUAL DRUNKARD” STATUTE

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA, July 16, 2019 — Today in Manning v. Caldwell, the Fourth Circuit, sitting en banc, struck down Virginia’s statutory scheme that permitted the state to interdict and prosecute people as “habitual drunkards”—a practice that unjustly targets Virginians with alcoholism who are also homeless. The Legal Aid Justice Center and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP brought this challenge on behalf of several Plaintiffs arguing that the statute singles them out for incarceration based on their disease and their homeless status in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Fourth Circuit agreed.

The Court ruled that the term “habitual drunkard” is unconstitutionally vague under the due process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. It found that the statute failed to provide fair notice to the public, “imposing criminal penalties on an untold number of chronically ill citizens.” The Court agreed that such vague language in a criminal statute invited arbitrary enforcement and allows for the state to “target persons, including the homeless, that state officials deem undesirable.”

Further, the Court agreed with Plaintiffs’ Eighth Amendment challenge, affirming a central Constitutional value that one cannot be punished for who they are rather than what they have done. The Court stated, “What the Eighth Amendment cannot tolerate is the targeted criminalization of otherwise legal behavior that is an involuntary manifestation of an illness.”

The Legal Aid Justice Center applauded this landmark decision by the Court. “It is clear that the Court understood the heart of the issues — that the Constitution cannot allow for the criminalization of illness and homelessness. We look forward to telling our clients about this victory, so that they can pursue their lives without the constant fear of arrest and prosecution,” said Elaine Poon of the Legal Aid Justice Center.

“We are thrilled the majority in the 4th Circuit agreed with the position in our amicus, and the one affirmed in the 9th Circuit’s decision in Martin v. Boise, that it is cruel and unusual to punish homeless individuals for involuntary conduct that must take place in public because they do not have an adequate alternative,” said Eric Tars, legal director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “Virginia’s cities, and other cities in the 4th Circuit, should take heed that if they want to reduce the negative impacts of homelessness on their community, the most effective, most cost-effective, and most constitutional way to do so is providing adequate housing and services. Using the criminal justice system to deal with a social service failure is not an option.”

Jonathan Marcus of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP argued the case and stated, “we applaud the Court of Appeals’ decision that Virginia’s habitual drunkard regime is unconstitutional. It is an important victory for those who suffer from the illness of alcoholism. We look forward to the development of humane and constructive solutions to the serious problems of homelessness and alcoholism that are called for by this decision.

4th Circuit Rehearing Opinion (PDF)

Background
In March 2016, the Legal Aid Justice Center of Virginia (LAJC) and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP filed a class action lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” statute, to the extent it criminalizes the possession or consumption of alcohol by homeless individuals suffering from alcoholism. The complaint asserts that Commonwealth’s Attorneys Offices across Virginia have used the state’s outdated “habitual drunkard” statute, or Interdiction Statute (Va. Code §§ 4.1,-305, 4.1-322, and 4.1-333), to repeatedly incarcerate homeless individuals, violating their constitutional rights by punishing homeless alcoholics for having the disease of alcoholism. It also violates their right to due process by criminalizing the possession or consumption of alcohol—an otherwise lawful activity—without required constitutional protections. The complaint also challenges the statute as unconstitutionally vague because it fails to define “habitual drunkard” and encourages arbitrary police enforcement. Virginia’s antiquated interdiction law imposes penalties far beyond the state law prohibiting public intoxication, which results in only a small fine. The Interdiction Statute, by contrast, allows a Commonwealth’s attorney to petition the circuit court to declare someone a “habitual drunkard.” Once given this stigmatizing label, that person is subject to up to a year in jail if caught simply possessing alcohol.
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, workers’ 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 Rejects Request to Dismiss License Lawsuit

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June 28, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact:  Angela Ciolfi, Executive Director
434-529-1810
angela@justice4all.org

U.S. DISTRICT COURT REJECTS HERRING’S REQUEST TO DISMISS THE STINNIE v. HOLCOMB DRIVER’S LICENSE SUSPENSION LAWSUIT

Charlottesville, VA—Today, Judge Norman Moon of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia issued an opinion in Stinnie v. Holcomb, a lawsuit filed in 2016 by the Legal Aid Justice Center and McGuireWoods LLP challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s law automatically suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines.

Judge Moon denied DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb and Attorney General Mark Herring’s request to dismiss the case.  The Attorney General had argued that the one-year freeze of court debt driver’s license suspensions created by the budget amendment—which takes effect July 1, 2019, and expires July 1, 2020—should end the case.

Judge Moon rejected that argument, finding “although the Budget Amendment may indeed reflect shifting political winds … future enforcement of [the court debt driver’s suspension law] remains reasonably possible such that this case is not moot …” The Court refused to dismiss the case based on the “hypothetical and speculative” facts offered by the Commissioner.  

However, Judge Moon decided to stay, or postpone, trial in the Stinnie case to give the General Assembly a chance to pass a permanent fix during the current one-year freeze.

“The Plaintiffs would have preferred to have their day in court this August and end this civil rights crisis permanently,” said Angela Ciolfi, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Justice Center. “But if the Commonwealth will not take responsibility for decades of violating people’s constitutional rights, we will continue to fight in the General Assembly to fix it for the future.”

The Plaintiffs, the Legal Aid Justice Center, McGuireWoods LLP, and their pro bono partners remain committed to ending the injustice of court debt driver’s license suspensions in Virginia. It is unfair, counterproductive, and unconstitutional.  It punishes the poor, and it must end. 

Background:
Stinnie v. Holcomb is a putative class action lawsuit, filed by Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) and McGuireWoods LLP, challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute automatically suspending the driver’s licenses of nearly one million Virginia drivers who cannot afford to pay court costs and fines. The case was originally dismissed at the District Court, but it was revived by the Fourth Circuit last year when the appeals court allowed plaintiffs to amend their complaint. When LAJC filed the amended complaint, they also asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction, which would have the effect of ordering the DMV Commissioner to stop suspending driver’s licenses for non-payment of court debt while the lawsuit is pending.  On November 15, 2018, Judge Moon took evidence and heard arguments for and against the preliminary injunction.  On December 21, 2018 Judge Moon granted the preliminary injunction finding the driver’s license suspension statute likely unconstitutional and ordering the DMV Commissioner to reinstate Plaintiffs’ licenses while litigation proceeds. The Court also rejected the Commissioner’s arguments that the federal court lacked jurisdiction. The case had been set for trial in August 2019.  Today’s decision has the effect of postponing the trial until next year, to permit Virginia’s General Assembly to repeal Virginia’s court debt license suspension law.  

To download a copy of today’s opinion, go to https://www.justice4all.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/214-Memorandum-Opinion.pdf

To read more about the effect of the budget amendment, go to https://www.justice4all.org/2019/06/11/6-things-to-know-about-drivers-license-suspensions/

To read more about the lawsuit, or to download the briefs, go to http://www.justice4all.org/drive.

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, workers’ 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.

Continuing Problems at Fluvanna Women’s Prison

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Shannon Ellis, Attorney
Legal Aid Justice Center
434-529-1815
shannon@justice4all.org

WOMAN PRISONER AT FLUVANNA SEEKS RELIEF FROM LIFE-THREATENING MEDICATION FAILURES

Charlottesville, Va., April 30, 2019 — A woman incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) filed a motion today in federal court seeking relief from the prison’s repeated, life-threatening mismanagement of her medication. Ms. Margie Ryder, 39, suffers from terminal pulmonary arterial hypertension and is dependent for her survival upon appropriate administration of a powerful medication continuously delivered to her heart through a pump.  Over the past year, Ms. Ryder has been repeatedly hospitalized due to FCCW’s failure to appropriately provide this medication.  The motion filed today describes the daily fear Ms. Ryder suffers, wondering each time she receives her medication whether FCCW’s next mistake will be the one that kills her. 

Under the terms of the Scott v. Clarke class action Settlement Agreement approved by a federal judge in 2016, FCCW is obligated to provide medications in a “timely, safe, and sufficient manner.”  In January 2019, the federal court overseeing the Scott case ruled that FCCW had failed to comply with this requirement, as well as numerous other provisions of the Settlement Agreement. After hearing evidence in a weeklong enforcement trial, the Court concluded that FCCW had failed to appropriately and timely supply, distribute, and administer medications, and that this failure was of such a broad, systemic nature that the prison’s repeated dangerous medication mistakes were “hardly surprising.”  Among other remedies, the Court ordered FCCW to conduct extensive re-training of the nurses employed at the prison and to develop a new protocol ensuring that patients had access to appropriate medical care.  Unfortunately, the need for today’s motion makes it clear that—months later—FCCW’s medication failures continue, seriously endangering the lives of women like Ms. Ryder.

“My sentence was to serve a period of time, not to die,” said Ms. Ryder.  “I desperately want to make it through the rest of my sentence so that I can be released back to my family before my time comes.”

“Ms. Ryder’s suffering is a direct result of the Department of Corrections’ ongoing failure to adequately address long-standing, well-known problems at FCCW,” said Shannon Ellis, an attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center and co-counsel for the Plaintiff prisoners.  “Failures in funding, failures in staffing, and a fundamental culture of disrespect and disregard for prisoner patients fuel a dysfunctional system that results in tragedy.”

Today’s motion, filed by lawyers at the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), Wiley Rein LLP, and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee (WLC), asks the Court to order DOC to develop and implement a plan to safely administer Ms. Ryder’s medications, including ensuring appropriate nurse training and oversight.  It also seeks to open lines of communication at the prison between the medical staff and the plaintiff attorneys to ensure that future situations like Ms. Ryder’s can be addressed as quickly and cooperatively as possible.

Emergency Motion (PDF)

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.

About Wiley Rein
Wiley Rein LLP is a leading law firm located in Washington, DC, where it is a dominant presence with more than 270 attorneys and public policy advisors. Wiley Rein has earned international prominence by representing clients in complex, high-stakes regulatory, litigation, and transactional matters. 

About The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
From its inception in 1968, the mission of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs has been to mobilize the resources of the private bar to address issues of civil rights violations and poverty in our community. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee provides pro bono representation in a broad range of civil rights and related poverty issues impacting every group protected by our federal, state and local civil rights laws.

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Follow Legal Aid Justice Center on Twitter @LegalAidJustice and find us on Facebook.

 

4th Circuit: No Remedy for ICE Abuses

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Hallie Ryan, Managing Attorney, 703-226-3426, hallie@justice4all.org
Tim Wallace, Dir. of Development, 434-529-1853, twallace@justice4all.org

Fourth Circuit: If ICE agents break into your house illegally, you have no remedy

Falls Church, Va., April 26, 2019 — Today a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that ICE agents may violate clearly-established constitutional rights, and that the victims – U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike – have no legal remedy. Tun-Cos et al. v. Perrotte et al. is a case challenging unconstitutional, warrantless home raids by agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“The decision flies in the face of established Supreme Court precedent providing that victims of unconstitutional home raids by law enforcement can sue,” says Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program. “The effect of this decision is to treat ICE agents differently from FBI agents and other federal officers, granting ICE agents complete impunity if they commit egregious constitutional violations – a troubling result that should alarm all of us.”

The Tun-Cos case involved so-called “Bivens” claims, which are claims for damages against federal officials for violations of constitutional rights. The ability to recover damages for harms suffered at the hands of government officials when they violate clearly established constitutional rights deters illegal conduct and serves as a critical protection for all those living in America. Although the U.S. Supreme Court recently reaffirmed that such lawsuits may be brought against federal law enforcement officers who commit unconstitutional searches and seizures, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit found that immigration enforcement presented a “new context” and that the plaintiffs had no right to bring a Bivens claim against the agents.

“This decision allows ICE agents to go from door to door, invading U.S. citizens’ homes without a warrant or probable cause, based instead on racial profiling, and those citizens will have no ability to hold them accountable, no matter how flagrant the conduct,” says Sandoval-Moshenberg. “This decision affects every single person, citizen and noncitizen alike.”

The Legal Aid Justice Center and pro bono co-counsel at Covington & Burling are reviewing the decision and all options for further review, including a petition to the full Fourth Circuit to rehear the case en banc. “This case strikes at the heart of protections granted by the Bill of Rights – can the government invade your home without probable cause and without a warrant, and leave you without a remedy?” said Hallie Ryan, Managing Attorney at Legal Aid Justice Center. “An issue of this importance should be decided by the entire Fourth Circuit.” 

Fourth Circuit Opinion (PDF)

Background on the Case
Tun-Cos et al. v. Perrotte et al. is a lawsuit which alleges that at 5 a.m. on February 8, 2017, a team of ICE agents coerced entry into the northern Virginia home of Jose Carcamo without a warrant, purportedly searching for a suspect. Once inside, the team of agents went from door-to-door in the home, rounded up all the male residents and detained them in the living rooms, and demanded they produce proof of U.S. citizenship. When some could not, the ICE agents arrested them. The plaintiffs alleged that mid-raid, one ICE agent asked the U.S. citizen homeowner “are there any other Spanish families on this street?”  A few days later, the plaintiffs allege that the same team of ICE agents invaded a second home just a few miles away. In this incident, the ICE agents boxed in the car of two men as they were leaving for work, marched them to the door of their homes and demanded entry. Once inside, the agents again went from door-to-door, detained all the male residents and arrested those who could not produce proof of immigration status on-demand. The U.S. citizen homeowner, his family members, and those arrested all sued the ICE agents in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, demanding they be held accountable for the egregious constitutional violations.

In April 2018, the district court allowed the lawsuit to go forward after the ICE agents attempted to dismiss the case. The court found that the plaintiffs had alleged violations of clearly established constitutional rights and had the right to hold the agents accountable.

Legal Aid Justice Center brought the case with the support of Covington & Burling pro bono counsel.

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, workers’ rights, and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.  www.justice4all.org 

Mixed 4th Circuit Decision on ICE Transfers

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Becky Wolozin, Attorney, 703-720-5606, becky@justice4all.org
Tim Wallace, Dir. of Development, 434-529-1853, twallace@justice4all.org

4th Circuit decision on ICE transfers upholds court oversight but fails families

Falls Church, Va., April 16, 2019 — Today the 4th Circuit issued a decision in Reyna v. Hott, a case challenging ICE’s practice of transferring detained parents across the country and far away from their children and families. In an important win for immigration advocates, the Court unequivocally held that it had the power to hear cases challenging the way ICE transfers detainees to different detention centers. This important holding will allow advocates to continue to challenge unlawful and harmful ICE practices.

However, the Court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the case, failing to recognize a right to family unity for detained immigrants and their U.S. citizen children. In Virginia, the majority of immigrants that are detained by ICE have been living in the United States and many have families and US Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident children who also live in Virginia. Nonetheless, ICE transfers these detained parents across the country with no consideration of the needs of their children to visit their parents, or their own rights as parents to provide care and nurture to their children through in-person visits during the traumatic period of detention.

“While we are happy the court recognized its power to hold the government accountable for its arbitrary and punitive transfer practices, we are disappointed that the 4th circuit failed to recognize the importance of family unity in the context of detainee transfers. The parent-child relationship is not an on-off switch, and being able to visit their parents in person while their parents are detained is important to mitigate the harm done by the fact of detention,” says Becky Wolozin, attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center. “Instead, the 4th Circuit declined to provide relief for parents detained at great distances from their children, making in person visitation impossible causing exponential harm to the child and to the parent-child relationship.”

Fourth Circuit Opinion (PDF)

Background:
Reyna v. Hott was a lawsuit attempting to require ICE to consider the interests of the parent and the child in providing care and nurture through in-person visits before transferring parents far away from their families. The claim was based on a violation of due process because the government is unlawfully infringing on the liberty interest in family unity (held by both the parent and the child in the 4th circuit). The Plaintiffs contended that ICE was infringing on this interest because they did not provide notice or an opportunity for the parent or child to be heard regarding the harm that transfer of the parent would cause the child or the parent-child relationship.

The district court granted the government’s motion to dismiss because the judge found that the harm was done by the fact of detention, and that there was no further harm done by transferring parents great distances from where there children live, thereby essentially preventing visitation between parents and children.

Legal Aid Justice Center brought the case with the support of CapitalOne pro bono counsel.

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, workers’ rights, and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.  www.justice4all.org

About CaptialOne
Capital One Financial Corporation is headquartered in McLean, Virginia. Its subsidiaries, Capital One, N.A. and Capital One Bank (USA), N. A., offer a broad spectrum of financial products and services to consumers, small businesses and commercial clients. We apply the same principles of innovation, collaboration and empowerment in our commitment to our communities across the country that we do in our business. We recognize that helping to build strong and healthy communities – good places to work, good places to do business and good places to raise families – benefits us all and we are proud to support this and other community initiatives. www.capitaloneinvestingforgood.com

Governor’s Amendment on License Suspension

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Amy Woolard, Attorney & Policy Coordinator, 434-284-1134, amy@justice4all.org
Tim Wallace, Dir. of Development, 434-529-1853, twallace@justice4all.org

GOV. NORTHAM ANNOUNCES BUDGET AMENDMENT TO GIVE FULL GENERAL ASSEMBLY CHANCE TO VOTE ON DRIVER’S LICENSE SUSPENSION REPEAL

Charlottesville, Va., March 25, 2019 — Governor Northam announced today at a press conference that he will submit a budget amendment for consideration during the Reconvened Session next month that will give the Virginia General Assembly the opportunity to end the practice of suspending the driver’s licenses of those who fail to pay court fees and fines.

The current law that mandates the automatic suspension of licenses for unpaid court debt hurts people like Brianna Morgan, one of the named plaintiffs in a pending class action lawsuit filed by Legal Aid Justice Center. “Without my license, my own health suffered; rather than go to my specialists, I’d have to call an ambulance to go to the emergency room,” Brianna explained at the press conference. “And without my license, I couldn’t take my kids places, to help them learn and grow and do stuff that all kids should be able to experience.”

A bill that would have accomplished the change the Governor is seeking was introduced this year by Senator Bill Stanley.  “The Commonwealth can no longer justify what has essentially become a ‘debtors’ prison’ under our watch in the General Assembly,” Senator Stanley wrote in statement provided to the press. “That’s why I introduced SB1013 this legislative session to repeal the current law that mandates these unjust suspensions merely because a person cannot afford to pay the fines and costs.  While my bill passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, It was never heard by the full House of Delegates, even though it had overwhelming bipartisan support both inside and outside of the legislature.”

“We’ve worked for years with both Republicans and Democrats to get this common sense reform passed,” said Legal Aid Justice Center Executive Director Angela Ciolfi.  “We’re hopeful that the General Assembly will seize this critical opportunity to end this unconstitutional practice, which reaches deep into the daily lives of nearly one million Virginians, standing in the way of not only their attempts to pay their debts, but also their need to care for their families and maintain their jobs.”

Statement from Senator Stanley (PDF)

Remarks from Brianna Morgan, Petersburg Virginia (PDF)

Remarks from LAJC Executive Director Angela Ciolfi (PDF)

Driver’s License Suspension Fact Sheet (PDF)

About the 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. LAJC’s four programs: Civil Rights and Racial Justice, Economic Justice, Immigrant Advocacy, and JustChildren focus on the most pressing problems facing low income Virginians.

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Follow Legal Aid Justice Center on Twitter @LegalAidJustice and find us on Facebook.

Statement regarding Governor Northam

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Our statement on the deeply offensive photos in Governor Northam’s yearbook

February 2, 2019:

The Legal Aid Justice Center condemns white supremacy in all its forms. And it is not enough to condemn the actions of a single man in the Governor’s office. We must also ask ourselves how it is that a young man in the 80s would want his legacy among classmates to be gilded with racist imagery. And we must ask ourselves how it is that a yearbook editor approved the placement of racist images on the pages of its yearbook knowing and intending that those pages would forever memorialize the ethos of those who attended the school at that time. 

Honesty compels us to acknowledge that the deeply offensive photo in Governor Northam’s yearbook depicting a person in blackface and another in a Klan robe may not have come as a complete shock to many Black and brown people who know that racism’s deep roots often go unexamined as part of the fabric of American society. These decisions do not reflect just the poor judgment of one future governor or one yearbook editor. These actions reflect the fact that, as recently as three decades ago, not only did white society condone such racist behavior; it lauded and popularized that behavior. 

The Legal Aid Justice Center is committed to not only challenging all the ways our laws and institutions of power cause generational harm to communities of color, but also examining our own complicity in helping keep white supremacy alive. It is only by acknowledging and addressing the ways in which white supremacy has been consciously and unconsciously reinforced across all sectors and segments of our nation that we will realize our goal of “more justice, less poverty.”

Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of 10K Detained Children

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Aid Justice Center, simon@justice4all.org, 703-720-5605
Jen Fuson, SPLC, 202-834-6209, jen.fuson@splcenter.org
Marion Steinfels, SPLC, 202-557-0430, marionsteinfels@gmail.com
  
Trump Administration’s Policy between ORR, ICE Violates Due Process Rights of Immigrant Children, Sponsors
Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of 10,000 Children Detained by Trump Administration

Alexandria, Va. — The Legal Aid Justice Center, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox PLLC have filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of over 10,000 children currently being held by the Trump administration in over 100 detention centers across the country.

The lawsuit, originally filed last August in the federal district court in Alexandria, Va. on behalf of a group of youth being held in Virginia, reveals that the alarming number of children that continue to be held for long periods of time is now at a crisis level. The lawsuit charges this situation is primarily the result of the ongoing cooperation between the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which, hand-in-hand with family separation, is a deliberate strategy to deter vulnerable migrants from traveling to the U.S.  A memo drafted in late 2017 and obtained January 17, 2019 reveals the Administration intended the very result this policy has caused: the prolonged detention of children. 

The lawsuit is asking for the release of children who have sponsors available to take them into their homes and to reform this system that has resulted in prolonged detention for thousands of children around the nation.

“If the President is really interested in taking on a crisis in regard to the immigration situation – this is one he has the power to solve, since his Administration created it,” said Mary Bauer, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. “We have over 10,000 children in custody right now because this administration is using them as bait. This deplorable, deliberate policy means that these children are languishing in detention for months at a time.”

In April 2018, ORR entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), whereby ORR agreed to share with ICE the information it gathered during the family reunification petition process about sponsors and others living in the household. This policy, an effort to facilitate DHS’s efforts to arrest and remove possible sponsors who may be undocumented, has led to far fewer individuals coming forward on behalf of the children in detention. 

This scheme is laid out in internal documents provided by a whistleblower that were made public last Thursday. The documents demonstrate that this policy is a part of the same strategy as the infamous family separation policy, and that the government knew it would result in fewer sponsors coming forward and children remaining in custody for longer periods of time.

“Children belong in homes with families, not warehoused in government detention centers,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program and the Legal Aid Justice Center. “But the government is still using sponsors’ information for ICE immigration arrests.  They’re still targeting the sponsors themselves, and as a result over 10,000 immigrant children are still stuck in detention for longer than ever before.”

Despite the Administration announcing in mid-December the policy would be altered to only apply to sponsors and not family or household members, little has changed. The partnership between ORR and ICE remains in place and continues to have an enormously chilling effect on potential sponsors coming forward on behalf of these children. 

The lawsuit also outlines the completely disorganized and arbitrary sponsorship process, which has created an impenetrable maze for potential sponsors. Together these unlawful and abhorrent policies are having an incredibly negative impact on these already vulnerable immigrant children including:

  • C.L., 14 years old, fled Mexico last fall. She was forced to leave her home after a series of events involving a group of violent men. They killed three of her uncles, broke into her family’s home, and threatened her at gunpoint. The teen hoped to rejoin her mother in San Francisco. Instead, she was taken to a shelter in Florida, a 2,350-capacity facility not subject to state licensure and corresponding child welfare inspections. 
  • Y.S.R. will turn 18 in three months at the Crittenton facility in Orange County. After a terrifying odyssey from El Salvador where she was routinely sexually abused by a relative, a high-ranking member of a Salvadoran gang, A.Y.S.R. and her 1-year-old son presented themselves at a port of entry in Arizona in September 2018. When immigration officials tried to separate them, she resisted and was sent to a Border Patrol holding facility commonly known as the “icebox” for its freezing temperatures and lack of adequate facilities to care for children.

The plaintiffs include a dozen immigrant children who are currently detained and their sponsors, as well as the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), organizations that assist immigrant youth and their family members as well as nonprofits to navigate the immigration system, including the ORR sponsorship process.

“When a government agency takes custody of a child, it should always be looking out for the child’s best interests. But the Trump Administration has instead seen children as a way to go after their parents or relatives,” said Jorge Baron, Executive Director for NWIRP.  “We hope this court case will lead to families being reunified as soon as possible.”

 “CLINIC’s mission is to welcome the stranger and provide support for the most vulnerable among us. Implementing a policy that intentionally keeps children apart from their families is antithetical to CLINIC’s mission,” said Jeanne M. Atkinson, Executive Director of CLINIC.

Please find the complaint and key attachments at the following links: LAWSUIT, ORR/ICE MOU and LEAKED MEMO.

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About Legal Aid Justice Center
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 http://www.justice4all.org/current-initiatives/fighting-family-separation/.

 

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Statement in Support of Pretrial Justice

Posted by

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACT:
Adeola Ogunkeyede
Legal Director, Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program, Legal Aid Justice Center 804-340-7728 | adeola@justice4all.org

Statement in Support of Pretrial Justice in Virginia

Richmond, Virginia (January 15, 2019) – Today, Legal Aid Justice Center joined other advocacy organizations to call on members of the General Assembly, as well as the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General to support Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy’s and Senator Jennifer McClellan’s pretrial transparency bills. The bills (HB 2121/ SB 1687)  would allow policy makers and advocates to better understand the pretrial experiences of everyone involved in the Virginia criminal justice system, and it would arm policymakers, researchers, and everyday people with the information needed to craft effective policy solutions. You can read the full letter here.

Virginia currently does not collect or report data concerning statewide pretrial outcomes. As a result, the current process leads to unnecessary pretrial detention, punctuated by racial and economic disparities. Without consistent data collection and reporting on the full range of pretrial decisions, we will not be able to create effective laws that address these problems or move us closer to justice and away from costly, unnecessary, and often unfair detention.

The Legal Aid Justice Center has taken a leading role in efforts by the advocacy community to bring pretrial injustices in Virginia to light. In Fall 2017, Legal Aid Justice Center’s Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program began studying Virginia’s pretrial practices. We analyzed information about jail populations submitted in response to Virginia Freedom of Information Act requests, talked with public defenders and community groups about their clients’ or membership’s experiences with bail and pretrial detention, provided technical assistance to community bail funds engaging in “bail out” campaigns, and devised a court-watch program to observe the pretrial system in practice.

While the data we collected did not cover the whole state, what we found was more than troubling. Some of the findings from that study were eventually cited by the Attorney General in his October 2018 letter suggesting the Virginia should end its reliance on cash bonds as a condition of pretrial release. We believe that Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy’s and Senator Jennifer McClellan’s pretrial transparency bills are urgently needed for Virginia to get at the heart of what changes are necessary to move this system toward meaningful reform.

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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, employment rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance.

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