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Yemeni Immigrants Reunited with Families in U.S.

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PRESS RELEASE

Yemeni immigrants unlawfully barred by Trump’s executive order reunited with families in U.S.

After a nine-day ordeal sparked by President Trump’s January 27 executive order on immigration, Tareq and Ammar Aquel Mohammed Aziz, ages 21 and 19, have finally joined their father in the US. As was disclosed on February 3 in a federal court in Virginia, the brothers are two of the estimated 60,000–100,000 people whose valid visas were unlawfully revoked by the executive order, which took effect as the brothers were flying to the United States to live with their father, Aquel Aziz, who is a U.S. citizen residing in Michigan. After arriving on January 28, the brothers were coerced into signing an administrative form withdrawing their application for admission to the United States, and their valid visas were cancelled. Subsequently, they spent more than a week in legal limbo stranded at airports in Addis Ababa and Djibouti. The Al Murisi family of Yemen, who were traveling with their five children, endured a similar ordeal.

The Aziz brothers and Al Murisi family were aided by a team of lawyers from the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) in Virginia and the law firm Mayer Brown, which mobilized quickly after learning that the immigrants were denied entry in the US. The lawyers – Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg from LAJC, and Andy Pincus and Paul Hughes from Mayer Brown – obtained an injunction from a federal judge in Virginia staying the executive order before negotiating the boys’ return to the U.S.

“With the critical assistance of Mayer Brown and CrowdJustice, which has helped raise needed funds, the Aziz brothers and Al Murisi family have finally been permitted to arrive in the United States,” said Sandoval-Moshenberg of the LAJC. “While it’s highly gratifying to have played a role in bringing these families together again, we know other families are facing uncertainty and fear as a result of this executive order and encourage them to seek assistance.”

“The executive branch overreached in this unnecessary and unlawful order,” added Hughes of Mayer Brown. “Thanks to the concerted efforts of dozens of determined lawyers and judges throughout the country, however, the rule of law has been vindicated, and two families from Yemen have been made whole.”

Contact:
Tim Wallace
Director of Development
Legal Aid Justice Center
Phone: 434.529.1853 (office) and 773.426.5948 (mobile)

Virginia Files Motion to Intervene in Aziz v. Trump

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Today, the Commonwealth of Virginia announced that it is intervening in the litigation the Legal Aid Justice Center and Mayer Brown LLP have brought on behalf of the Aziz bothers, and others similarly situated, who are lawful permanent residents or immigrant visa holders and who were denied entry to the United States over the past weekend on the basis of the recently-issued Executive Order.

“Virginia’s decision to intervene provides further evidence of the serious constitutional and statutory flaws in the immigration Executive Order,” said Mayer Brown partner Andrew Pincus.

“Virginia’s intervention in our lawsuit confirms the enormous practical repercussions of the Executive Order,” added Mayer Brown partner Paul Hughes.

“Virginia has chosen to intervene in order to protect the rights of all Virginia residents, especially members of its universities,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg of the Legal Aid Justice Center.

For details about the Dulles detainees and to support our efforts in this case, please go here: https://www.crowdjustice.org/case/dullesdetainees/

Resources:

NAACP and LAJC Oppose DMV’s Dismissal Motion

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The Virginia State Conference of the NAACP has asked the court for leave to file as amicus curiae in opposing DMV Commissioner Holcomb’s motion to dismiss the complaint in Stinnie v. Holcomb. Stinnie v. Holcomb is our lawsuit challenging Virginia’s system of automatically suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid court debt without inquiring into the debtor’s financial circumstances.

Today, the Legal Aid Justice Center filed a Memorandum of Opposition on behalf of the Plaintiffs in response to the Commissioner’s Oct. 3 Motion to Dismiss in Stinnie v. Holcomb. In the Opposition, we argue that (1) legal technicalities do not prevent the court from hearing this lawsuit, and (2) the Commissioner is wrong in his position that the Plaintiffs have not sufficiently alleged that Virginia’s license-for-repayment scheme violates the United States Constitution in the following ways:

  • It violates due process and fundamental fairness by setting up a justice system that punishes those who owe money to the state for sheer inability to pay.
  • It strips Plaintiffs of a constitutionally protected property interest – their driver’s licenses – without the guaranteed safeguards of notice and a hearing.
  • It violates equal protection by treating those who are willing but unable to pay more harshly than those who are willing and able to pay, when the only difference between them is the amount of money they have.
  • Suspending licenses for court debt fails even the most minimum constitutional standards because it is not rationally related to legitimate state interests – indeed, by siphoning away law enforcement resources and preventing debtors from earning a living, it undermines the state’s asserted interests in advancing highway safety and prompting repayment.
  • It subjects Plaintiffs to harsher collection practices than those for civil debtors, in violation of equal protection.

Full Memorandum in Opposition (PDF)

In support of our Opposition, the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP has asked the court for leave to file an amicus brief arguing that Virginia’s driver’s license suspension system for unpaid court debt disproportionately harms black Virginians, violates constitutional rights, and fails even the most basic sense of fairness. In its brief, the NAACP points to data showing “[b]lack people make up only 20% of Virginia’s population, but receive nearly half of the orders of suspension for unpaid court debt,” and “nearly 60% of convictions for driving while suspended wherein court debt was imposed but is ‘past due’ are associated with blacks.” Full Amicus Brief (PDF)

The Legal Aid Justice Center believes that Virginia’s automatic license-for-payment system exposes hundreds of thousands of people to indefinite driver’s license suspension, spiraling debt, and incarceration for driving while suspended, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee that no one shall be punished for their poverty.

News Release: The Virginia State Conference of the NAACP files amicus curiae brief supporting the Plaintiffs in Stinnie v. Holcomb (November 3, 2016)

Additional Resources:
Drive Down the Debt Home Page
U.S. Dept. of Justice Statement of Interest

Lawsuit Challenges Virginia’s License Suspension Policy

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Lawsuit Challenges Virginia’s Unconstitutional System of Suspending Licenses of Low-Income Drivers Who Are Unable to Pay Court Debts

 

Commonwealth Fails to Consider Debtor’s Financial Circumstances or Offer Alternatives to Hundreds of Thousands of Virginians Who Can’t Pay Costs and Fines

 

Virginia is trapping hundreds of thousands of low-income residents in debt and poverty by suspending their driver’s licenses for failure to pay unreasonable court costs and fines, according to a federal class action lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) against the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

The complaint asserts that Virginia fails to inquire into the reason for non-payment or consider debtors’ financial circumstances before suspending their licenses. It calls these “severe and coercive” policies discriminatory and in violation of the “fundamental principles of due process equal protection” of the laws embedded in the United States Constitution.

Nearly 1 million Virginia drivers currently have suspended licenses for failure to pay 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 incarceration for driving illegally.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, argues that these practices trap low-income Virginians in a vicious cycle, depriving them of reliable lawful transportation to take children to school, keep medical appointments, care for ill or disabled family members, and “paradoxically, to meet their financial obligations to the courts.” By contrast, the lawsuit notes that wealthier drivers have little difficulty covering court debt and retaining their licenses.

The filing follows the release of an analysis last month by LAJC that found most Virginia General District Courts are disregarding recommendations issued last summer by the Judicial Council of Virginia aimed at helping low-income residents pay off court costs and fines.

Virginia makes it particularly difficult for debtors to have their licenses reinstated. A person convicted of reckless driving in Virginia risks no more than a six-month suspension of their license, while a person who fails to pay court costs faces an indefinite suspension, often lasting years. In FY2015 alone, the DMV issued 366,773 orders of driver’s license suspensions resulting from unpaid court costs or fines, more than a third of which (38%) were for offenses unrelated to driving.

“Driver’s license suspension is Virginia’s form of a debtors’ prison,” said Angela Ciolfi, a senior attorney at LAJC. “Many areas of the state provide no reliable public transportation, effectively leaving people confined to their homes or forcing them to risk jail time by driving on suspended licenses.”

The case of Robert Taylor, a National Guard veteran and one of four named plaintiffs in the case, is typical of the challenges faced by low-income debtors with suspended licenses. Taylor, 28, owes money to at least four different Virginia courts, none of which assessed his ability to pay before levying court costs and fines and suspending his license. Since his offense of running a red light in April 2014, Taylor’s license has been suspended repeatedly for non-payment. Taylor, who struggles with health issues, lost his job and also faces thousands of dollars in medical and student loan debt. Without a driver’s license, he has been unable to guarantee prospective employers that he will have reliable transportation if hired. His suspended license led at least one employer to rescind a job offer.

“I don’t understand why the system was so quick to punish me for something I was eager to fix,” said Taylor, who has spent multiple days in jail for driving with a suspended license. “All I want to do is drive to work, make a decent living, and pay my debts.”

The complaint charges that the state has steadily increased court fees in order to fund its basic operations, and authorized localities to do the same. In 1989, court costs for all misdemeanor or traffic violations were $20. Now they can run more than $100, including local option fees, before adding in any charges for specific “services” such as blood withdrawal, jail admission or even reimbursement of fees paid to attorneys appointed by the state to represent people who are too poor to afford one.

The complaint calls for an injunction against the DMV, preventing it from entering orders of suspension against the licenses of low-income drivers until Virginia implements a system that properly assesses drivers’ ability to pay court debt. It also calls for the DMV to immediately reinstate the licenses of all drivers who were penalized for inability to pay. The lawsuit comes as the Virginia Supreme Court considers new rules regarding payment plans and the Virginia General Assembly prepares to hold a legislative study commission on the issue.

“We applaud the efforts of the Virginia Supreme Court and General Assembly to tackle court debt, and aim to complement those efforts with this lawsuit,” said Ciolfi. “When private creditors go to collect a debt, the law prevents them from depriving people of the means to meet the basic needs of their families and earn a livelihood; why should the Commonwealth be able to use such an extreme measure that effectively does just that? Low-income debtors deserve a path to self-sufficiency and self-respect. We hope this lawsuit gives them that path.”

Resources
Complaint (PDF)
Exhibit A (PDF)
Exhibit B (PDF)
Exhibit C (PDF)
Exhibit D (PDF)

Fact Sheet (PDF)

Media Coverage

Group files legal challenge to Virginia driver’s license suspensions for the poor (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 7/6/16)

Lawsuit seeks to stop suspension of Virginia licenses over unpaid fines (Daily Press, 7/6/16)

 

Lawsuit Challenges “Habitual Drunkard” Law

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Federal Class Action Challenges Antiquated Virginia “Habitual Drunkard” Law That Jails Homeless Individuals

The Legal Aid Justice Center 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 alcoholics.

The complaint asserts that Commonwealth’s Attorneys Offices across Virginia have used the state’s outdated “habitual drunkard” statute, or Interdiction Statute (Va. Code § 4.1-322), 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.

Resources
Full Complaint (PDF)
Press Release (PDF)
Fact Sheet (PDF)

Media Coverage
Charlottesville Group Challenging ‘Habitual Drunkard’ Law (WVIR-TV NBC29, 3/3/16)
Challenging a State Law that Jails Alcoholics (WVTR-Radio IQ, 3/3/16)
LAJC Challenges Habitual Drunkard Statute (CBS19 Newsplex, 3/3/16)
Lawsuit Seeks to End Jail Time for the Homeless (Roanoke Times, 3/3/16)
Lawsuit: Officials Use Statute to Punish Homeless Alcoholics (The Virginia-Pilot, 3/4/16)
Attorneys File Class-Action Lawsuit Against Virginia’s ‘Habitual Drunkard’ Laws (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/6/16)

JustChildren Releases School Policing Report

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Protecting Childhood: A Blueprint for Developmentally Appropriate School Policing in Virginia

The JustChildren Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center has released a report identifying the problems of placing law enforcement officers in schools. The report provides a list of detailed recommendations that will improve school safety, increase academic achievement, and help break down the school-to-prison pipeline.

School security personnel are increasingly commonplace in Virginia’s public schools. There are two types. School resource officers (SROs) are certified law enforcement officers who are typically employed by local law enforcement agencies and assigned to provide coverage to public schools. School security officers (SSOs) are individuals employed by school divisions to maintain order and discipline in their assigned schools. To date, little analysis of school policing in the Commonwealth exists. This report aims to change that.

More info here.

Report says Virginia should require school police training and alter laws to reduce arrests (Center for Public Integrity)

Full Report (PDF)

 

Preliminary Approval in Fluvanna Prison Case

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Charlottesville, VA, September 16, 2015—The settlement agreement between the women prisoners at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) and the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) was officially submitted on Tuesday, September 15. The agreement proposes to settle a class action lawsuit concerning the medical care provided at the Fluvanna County prison. Federal District Judge Norman Moon granted preliminary approval of the settlement on Wednesday, September 16.  Notice will be sent to the women prisoners, and Judge Moon must review and approve the settlement agreement, considering any objections by prisoners, before it becomes final.

More details about the settlement, including settlement documents and other materials related to the case, can be found here.

US Settles Lawsuit Alleging Wrongful Deportation

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United States Agrees to Settle Lawsuit Alleging Wrongful Deportation

Washington D.C. – After more than two years of litigation, the U.S. government has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by Leonel Ruiz on behalf of his minor daughter, E.R. The suit alleged that in 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), unlawfully detained Mr. Ruiz’s then 4-year-old daughter – a U.S. citizen – when she arrived at Dulles Airport in Virginia, deprived her of any contact with her parents, and sent her back to Guatemala rather than allowing her to join her parents, who awaited her arrival in New York.

According to the complaint, during the twenty hours E.R. was detained in CBP custody with her grandfather, she was given nothing to eat other than a cookie and soda and nowhere to nap other than the cold floor. She was finally able to return home to the United States nearly three weeks later, but only after her father hired a local attorney to fly to Guatemala to retrieve her.

“With ever-increasing numbers of U.S.-born children of mixed-status families, this will continue to be a problem unless CBP formally trains its officers on how to better handle issues around returning U.S. citizen children,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Project, which also provided pro bono representation to E.R. “CBP’s role is to facilitate lawful entries into the United States, not to throw up barriers and roadblocks.”

Full Release (American Immigration Council)

Media Coverage

Sandoval-Moshenberg Named IAP Director

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Simon-Sandoval-Moshenberg-NVA-200x300

The Legal Aid Justice Center is pleased to announce that attorney Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg has been named director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program (IAP). Since its creation in 1998, IAP’s attorneys and community organizers have educated Virginia immigrants about their rights and helped them protect their families’ well-being.

Since joining the Immigrant Advocacy Program as an attorney in 2011, Sandoval-Moshenberg has specialized in consumer, housing, and employment litigation in federal and state court. He has spearheaded many high-impact cases, including our successful effort to gain in-state tuition eligibility for thousands of Virginia recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). He also has taken on “zombie” debt collectors, and he helped establish our program to assist unaccompanied minor refugees.

See press release for more details and quotes.

Resources
Press Release (PDF)

Housing Discrimination Complaint Filed in Richmond

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MOBILE HOME RESIDENTS FILE HOUSING DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINT AGAINST CITY OF RICHMOND

Families say the City’s code enforcement campaign is discriminatory, aims to shut down source of affordable housing.

A group of more than thirty current and former mobile home park residents filed a fair housing complaint against the City of Richmond on Friday after a year of trying to cooperate with the City. It was submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) over the City’s code enforcement campaign against mobile home parks. “We all want a safe home and we want to comply with the code,” says Gerardo Martinez, a resident of Mobile Towne on Old Midlothian Turnpike. “But we feel like the City is targeting mobile home parks because we are communities of poor, mostly Latino families.”

The group submitted the complaint to HUD with the help of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond and the law firm of Crowell & Moring in Washington, D.C. It alleges that the City’s enforcement campaign discriminates by specifically targeting mobile home parks, where residents are mainly Latino. “Instead of finding ways to help ensure they have safe housing, inspectors are threatening to shut down the only option many of these families can afford,” according to Legal Aid Justice Center attorney Phil Storey.

The complaint describes ways the City has subjected mobile home residents to harsh enforcement actions. These include intrusive inspections with armed police escorts; threats to condemn homes or even bring criminal charges if residents don’t allow inspectors inside; and unreasonable repair standards that make compliance unrealistic.

Resources

Press Release (PDF)

Aviso de Prensa (PDF)

Official Complaint (PDF)

Media Coverage

City Faces Discrimination Complaint (Style Weekly, 4/27/15)

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