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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.

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Rachael Deane
Legal Director, JustChildren Program
804-521-7304 |

Legal Aid Justice Center Joins the Education Civil Rights Alliance to Fight Back Against Civil Rights Violations Threatening Students

Charlottesville, Virginia (November 2, 2017) — In the face of increasing threats to student civil rights in Virginia and throughout the nation, Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) has joined with more than two dozen leading education and civil rights groups to launch the Education Civil Rights Alliance (ECR Alliance).

Schools should serve, educate, empower and be safe for all students, yet all across America today, far too many students face bullying and other barriers to education based on their race, religion, national origin, gender identity, disability, first language, or sexual orientation. Immigrant children continue to be illegally denied the right to enroll in school. Increasingly divisive and hateful rhetoric and growing anti-Muslim and White nationalist sentiment only serve to exacerbate the threats to already marginalized vulnerable students.

“We are pleased to join the Education Civil Rights Alliance and to stand against discrimination and hate in Virginia’s schools,” said Rachael Deane, Legal Director of LAJC’s JustChildren program. “All students in Virginia have the right to education in safe schools, and we will continue to work with students and parents across the Commonwealth to ensure that all children have the protection, services, and supports they need to be successful in school and in their communities.”

The ECR Alliance will ensure the civil rights of marginalized students remain protected by providing resources to help parents, educators, school districts, and advocates protect students’ civil rights, supporting enforcement actions at the state and local level when schools districts and states fail to do so, working to raise public awareness of these challenges facing students, and serving as a deterrent to discriminatory and illegal behavior.

This alliance includes powerful community groups, experienced educators, the nation’s largest teachers unions, accomplished legal organizations, influential national associations, civil rights organizations, and government agencies committed to ensuring that schools serve, educate, empower and are safe for all students. Members of the ECR Alliance have extensive experience in, and a deep commitment to, protecting students’ civil rights.


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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.

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Amy Woolard
Attorney and Policy Coordinator, Legal Aid Justice Center
434-529-1846 |

New Report: Virginia’s School Suspension Crisis Worsened in 2015-16

Charlottesville, Virginia (October 17, 2017) – Virginia schools continue to suspend students at an alarming rate—an ongoing crisis that harms students of color, students with disabilities, and elementary school students most profoundly.   

An update to the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Suspended Progress report reveals that, during the 2015-16 school year, Virginia schools issued over 131,500 out-of-school suspensions to over 70,000 students, marking an increase in the Commonwealth’s suspension rate after four years of a downward trend.

In this update to Suspended Progress, the Legal Aid Justice Center finds that:

  • Students with disabilities were suspended at rates 2.6 times higher than that of non-disabled students; African-American students were suspended at rates 3.8 times higher than Hispanic and white students.
  • The short-term suspension rate increased in 2015-2016 after years of significant steady decline.
  • Virginia schools continue to suspend very young students at an astonishing rate, issuing over 17,300 short-term suspensions and at least 93 long-term suspensions just to children in pre-K through 3rd
  • The vast majority of all suspensions were issued for minor offenses, with approximately two-thirds of all suspensions issued for behavior offenses like: possession of cell phones, minor insubordination, disrespect, and using inappropriate language.

“Exclusionary discipline is myopic and harmful—we cannot continue to use access to education as a punishment for student conduct and expect positive results from either students or schools,” said Amy Woolard, Legal Aid Justice Center attorney and author of the report. “When children are suspended from school, they are more likely to experience academic failure, drop out of school, have substance abuse issues, have mental health needs, and become involved in the justice system.”

The report points to proven alternatives to school exclusion that keep students connected to academics and provide tailored interventions when needed. Those alternatives include restorative practices, multi-tiered systems of supports, and social and emotional learning programs as positive steps local schools can implement in lieu of exclusion.

The Legal Aid Justice Center’s report provides policymakers with immediate steps to take during the 2018 General Assembly session to begin to reverse this crisis. It also offers local school boards and communities a framework for ensuring student codes of conduct promote positive school climate and keep students on track toward graduation. “The good news is we know what works better for students and for schools,” said Woolard. “Alternatives to exclusion like restorative practices emphasize accountability while strengthening students’ relationship to their education, their teachers and administrators, and their peers.”

To read the report, visit:


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.

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Fighting Back against ICE Constitutional and Legal Violations:
Supression of Evidence and Motions to Terminate Removal Proceedings.

In an immigration enforcement climate where “everyone is a priority,” ICE is frequently arresting undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for many years without incident.  Many of these arrests arise from racial profiling, no-warrant home raids, or other forms of constitutional violations. Where immigrants have no traditional form of relief available, advocates must look to creative strategies to challenge the government’s evidence of alienage.

Legal Aid Justice Center is bringing national experts to Virginia to give an in-depth training on litigating motions to supress and motions to terminate removal proceedings.  We will discuss applicable Fourth Circuit and BIA caselaw, common fact patterns and constitutional, statuary and regulatory violations to look for, and practicalities of litigating these types of cases before the immigration courts in Arlington and Baltimore.

3.0 hours of Virginia CLE credits, VSB approval pending

Friday, October 13, 2017, from 1:30 – 4:30pm

Location: Mason District Government Center, 6507 Columbia Pike, Annandale, VA 22003

Private attorneys: $75.00, and agree to take one pro bono case.
Private Attorneys click here to register.

Free for nonprofit attorneys.   
Nonprofit attorneys click here to register: 

Michael Wishnie, William O. Douglas Clinical Professor of Law, Yale Law School
Maureen Sweeney, Law School Associate Professor, University of Maryland
Melissa Crow, Litigation Director, American Immigration Counsel
Becky Wolozin, Morrison & Foerster Equal Justice Works Fellow, Legal Aid Justice Center
Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Director, Immigrant Advocacy Program, Legal Aid Justice Center

Support is provided by the Resilience Fund, housed at the Greater Washington Community Foundation.

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Tim Wallace, Director of Development              Mike Burnette, Director of Communications
Legal Aid Justice Center                                 Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc.
434-529-1853 |          804-354-0641 x118 |


Hopewell, Va., October 2, 2017—

            Today, five former public housing residents settled fair housing complaints they filed in Spring of 2017 with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) related to the privatization and redevelopment of their Hopewell, Virginia public housing complex under HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program[i].  The complaints alleged that the local housing authority and the developer discriminated against families with children and against residents with disabilities; pushed some residents out of their homes in violation of their legal right to return to the redeveloped units; and relocated other residents to severely overcrowded housing in poor condition[ii].

            HUD announced in May that it had launched a formal investigation into the complaints filed by residents of the Langston Park public housing complex, which was redeveloped and privatized under the RAD program, and renamed the Summit apartments. Today the complainants signed a conciliation agreement with HUD, Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA), and the developer Community Housing Partners (CHP) that requires CHP and HRHA to make widespread changes to policy and compensate specific individuals harmed in the past. These changes and compensation include:

  • Eliminating discriminatory and unwarranted policies at HRHA and CHP;
  • Appointing a fair housing coordinator in perpetuity who will provide resources and contact information for how applicants and residents can file fair housing complaints at HUD;
  • Monitoring of both CHP and HRHA’s future compliance with fair housing laws, by HUD as well as through fair housing testing conducted by an outside expert;
  • Improved procedures by CHP and HRHA for handling requests for reasonable accommodations by people with disabilities;
  • Improved relocation procedures for future RAD projects addressing resident needs proactively from beginning to end;
  • Installation of an age-appropriate playground for older children at the Summit with resident input;
  • Creation of fully funded after-school and summer programs for children at the Summit; and
  • Monetary compensation totaling more than $225,000 for the named complainants and a $112,300 compensation fund for other residents of the property whose fair housing rights were violated based on family status.

Attorneys with the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) and Housing Opportunities Make Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME) filed the complaints on behalf of their clients to prevent further civil rights violations against their clients and other residents who were harmed in the RAD redevelopment process and/or continue to be discriminated against. Housing discrimination is a problem that is not exclusive to Hopewell or Virginia, and Helen Hardiman, vice president of law and policy at HOME says victories can be achieved one step at a time. “Since 1988, the federal Fair Housing Act has prohibited housing discrimination against people because they have a disability or kids. It’s frustrating that this discrimination still exists in our communities, but it is satisfying that we could halt these egregious practices and grant some relief for families and people with disabilities who lived or live at housing managed by HRHA or CHP.”

RAD is often touted as the new frontier of public housing, but advocates are concerned that the program lacks adequate accountability to protect residents’ rights. Lack of HUD oversight and broad program discretion under RAD can lead to situations like Hopewell. According to Kim Rolla, attorney with the Civil Rights and Racial Justice Program at Legal Aid Justice Center, “If HUD doesn’t improve oversight of the RAD program, the Summit could be just the tip of a wave of massive problems as HUD and local housing authorities privatize public housing to finance its redevelopment.” There are currently several dozen other public housing communities in Virginia that HUD has approved to convert under the program. (See below for a list of localities/communities approved for RAD conversion[iii].)  These ‘public-private partnerships’ are still publicly funded and their purpose is to serve the lowest income community members, not primarily for developers or investors to make money. “We need HUD to monitor these programs and ensure our tax dollars are being used for their intended purpose,” Rolla states.

FHEO Summit Conciliation Agreement (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.

About Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc.
Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME), founded in 1971, is a statewide fair housing non‐profit. HOME’s mission is to ensure equal access to housing for all people. HOME investigates housing discrimination and provides support for victims of discrimination. You can learn more about HOME and all of its services at


Public Housing across the country is falling apart from years of deferred maintenance and neglect.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) hopes to increasingly attract private dollars to redevelop public housing properties through a program called Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD).  RAD is a “public-private partnership” model for redevelopment. In most RAD projects, public housing authorities transfer both management and a large portion of ownership of formerly public housing to private companies, but continue to subsidize the property with direct and indirect federal assistance.

The Summit at Hopewell was the first RAD conversion in Virginia.  Under the RAD program, Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA) transferred management and ownership of Langston Park in 2014 to Community Housing Partners (CHP) who razed the community and then built new apartments on the site, changing the name to the Summit at Hopewell.    

According to the residents’ formal complaint to HUD, CHP illegally discriminated against the families from Langston Park who returned to the Summit after its redevelopment based on disability status or having children. CHP forbade anyone under the age of 18 from watching their younger siblings, taking out the trash on their own, accessing the computers and other amenities at the community center if not under the direct supervision of an adult, or playing outside unsupervised. One letter from the Summit’s property manager even threatened to call Child Protective Services if children were left in the care of anyone under the age of 18.  According to Helen Hardiman, Vice President of Law and Policy at Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc., “CHP’s behavior left families with children little choice: stay inside or face harsh penalties. This is exactly the kind of discrimination the Fair Housing Act outlaws.”

One of the complaints states that HRHA and CHP denied a resident’s repeated requests for a first-floor unit at the Summit to accommodate her medical disability, in violation of her rights. Last year, she died at her home in the Summit of cardiac arrest and arrhythmia, complications from the very disabilities that were exacerbated by HRHA and CHP’s alleged failure to grant her multiple requests for a reasonable accommodation. Within a week of her death, CHP moved to evict her surviving household members, her 8- and 9-year old grandnieces. Another complaint states that the disabled resident was forced to use a bucket and rag to bathe for almost half a year due to an inaccessible shower, which CHP refused her requests to modify. Such failures to provide accessible accommodations in response to disabled residents’ requests violate the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The frequent moves and unhealthy, crowded conditions of replacement housing offered during the redevelopment process even contributed to complainant Kitty Wade losing custody of her youngest child. “During the redevelopment process they moved my family of six from our five-bedroom apartment in Langston Park into a run-down, two-bedroom apartment with mold problems. That’s when my ex-husband filed for, and eventually got, custody of my baby boy, because of the bad housing conditions and their health effects on my kids,” states Wade. “Then when we moved back into the Summit after the redevelopment, the management had so many rules about what kids couldn’t do that I ended up mostly keeping my kids inside the house all the time. It just felt like they didn’t care about us and didn’t really want families with children there.”

RAD program rules also guarantee all residents the right to return to the redeveloped property. In a complaint submitted to HUD’s Office of Recapitalization, which is in charge of managing the RAD program, multiple families from Langston Park described being pushed out of the community altogether, and not allowed to return to the Summit after its redevelopment. HRHA and CHP rebuilt the Summit with fewer large apartments for families with children. One resident in Langston Park with a daughter in a wheelchair claims CHP told her that there would not be an accessible unit at the Summit. Several residents from Langston Park claim they were misinformed and pressured, in violation of RAD program rules, to accept buyout offers to move elsewhere rather than return after redevelopment, apparently because their return to the Summit would limit CHP’s eligibility for tax credit financing.

In a July 17, 2017 letter to HRHA, HUD’s Office of Recapitalization found that HRHA denied four residents their right to return and ordered HRHA to extend an offer to the families immediately to return to the subsidized housing they were forced from. According to Kim Rolla, “residents are the intended beneficiaries of this program and they have a federally guaranteed right to return to the redeveloped property. The denial of this right caused displaced residents extreme financial hardship. Many ended up in unstable housing situations and some even experienced periods of homelessness. The lack of communication and attention to residents’ needs – and outright prioritizing of financing over resident rights and wellbeing – troublingly suggest that they were not a priority in this transaction.”

[iii] List of Approved RAD Conversions in Virginia (PDF) 

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Rachael Deane
Legal Director, JustChildren Program, Legal Aid Justice Center
804-521-7304 |

Fellowship Supports Juvenile Justice Reform Advocates of Color

Richmond, Va., September 29, 2017 —Valerie Slater, attorney and RISE for Youth coalition coordinator at the Legal Aid Justice Center, has been has been chosen as a fellow in the Youth Justice Leadership Institute. The Institute is a prestigious national fellowship program for juvenile justice reform advocates run by the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) in Washington, DC. Applications to the year-long leadership development program are competitive, and only ten people are selected each year.

Ms. Slater coordinates the Reinvest in Supportive Environments (RISE) for Youth coalition, a statewide, nonpartisan campaign coalition with the central goal of developing community-based alternatives to youth incarceration.  She is a former staff attorney at the disAbility Law Center of Virginia and a graduate of the University of Richmond School of Law, where she participated in the school’s Children’s Defense and Education Rights clinics.

“Valerie is an exceptional leader who amplifies the voices of youth and communities of color to reform Virginia’s juvenile justice system,” said Rachael Deane, the legal director of the JustChildren program at Legal Aid Justice Center. “This fellowship will enhance the work of the RISE Coalition to demand alternatives to incarcerating youth in Virginia.”

“Youth justice can only be equitable when affected youth and families are a part of shaping what that system of justice looks like,” said Valerie Slater. “Overwhelmingly, impacted youth and families are people of color. I am honored to have this opportunity to grow as a leader as we work to tear down barriers and build opportunities for impacted communities to assert their power to help transform juvenile justice in Virginia.”

Although communities of color are heavily impacted by juvenile justice policy, advocates of color are surprisingly underrepresented in advocacy leadership. The Youth Justice Leadership Institute seeks to address this imbalance by offering fellowships to develop the leadership and advocacy skills of people of color who are in the youth justice field. During the year-long program, Institute fellows increase their knowledge about the juvenile justice system’s structures, reform needs, and effective advocacy and organizing techniques to achieve system change. They are also matched with experienced advocates, who mentor them over the course of the year. 

Photos, videos, and more information about the Institute and previous fellows can be found here:


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.

RISE for Youth is a statewide, nonpartisan campaign coalition whose central goal is to develop a continuum of community-based alternatives to incarceration that will keep juvenile justice system involved youth closer to their homes and support networks while making our communities safer.

The National Juvenile Justice Network is composed of coalitions, organizations and alumni of the Youth Justice Leadership Institute across 34 states and the District of Columbia, all of whom advocate for a fairer justice system for children and teens.

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Angela Ciolfi
Director of Litigation & Advocacy, Legal Aid Justice Center
434-529-1810 |


New Report: Most States Strip Driver’s Licenses for Unpaid Court Debt

 Few states require an examination of a person’s ability to pay,putting millions of low-income Americans at risk of being punished for their poverty

Charlottesville, Va., September 26, 2017—Nearly every state and the District of Columbia have laws permitting, and in many states requiring, the suspension of driver’s licenses for nonpayment of court costs and fines, according to a report released today from the Legal Aid Justice Center.

The report, “Driven by Dollars: A State-By-State Analysis of Driver’s License Suspension Laws for Failure to Pay Court Debt,” finds that:

  • License-for-payment systems are ubiquitous despite widespread consensus that they are counter-productive and harmful.  Forty-three states (and D.C.) suspend driver’s licenses because of unpaid court debt.
  • Most states suspend licenses without any safeguards in place to make sure people are not punished just for being poor. Only 4 states require an ability-to-pay, or “willfulness,” determination before a license can be suspended for nonpayment.
  • 14 states use license suspension, not just for traffic court debt, but also to punish non-payment of criminal justice debt even when the crime bears no relation to motor vehicles.
  • Virtually all states that suspend for unpaid court debt do so indefinitely.  It is not uncommon for people to lose their licenses for many years.

Although nationwide data are unavailable, we know that the individuals whose licenses are currently suspended or revoked for failure to pay court debt number in the millions.  Indeed, just 5 states (Texas, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee) account for over 4.2 million people.

“Driver’s license suspension sets up a vicious cycle. Those who can pay, do. Those who can’t pay, lose their licenses and consequently suffer 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.” said Angela Ciolfi, Director of Litigation & Advocacy at the Legal Aid Justice Center. “This report confirms what we have been hearing for years. That this is not just a Ferguson problem or a Virginia problem.  This is a national problem that affects millions of people in nearly every state.”

These laws have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, as questions surface about their constitutionality and effectiveness. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) has stated that driver’s license suspension should not be used for punishing social non-conformance, but should instead be limited to taking dangerous drivers off the road.  Similarly, the U.S. Department of Justice has written that such suspensions “raise significant public policy concerns” and that governmental authorities should “avoid suspending driver’s licenses as a debt collection tool, reserving suspension for cases in which it would increase public safety.”

In 2016, the Legal Aid Justice Center filed Stinnie v. Holcomb, a class action challenging Virginia’s automatic suspension statute, and similar challenges have been filed in 4 other states:  California, Tennessee, Michigan, and Montana. The lawsuits contend that automatic license suspension violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses by punishing people for their poverty.

The podcast, Independent Study, recently did an in-depth profile of the Stinnie v. Holcomb lawsuit.  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, go to

For a PDF of the report click here.


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.



State Organization Press contact
Alabama  Southern Poverty Law
Ashley Levett


Equal Justice Under Law


Stephanie Storey
California Bay Area Legal Aid


ACLU of Northern California

Rubicon Programs

Rebekah Evenson
(510) 250-5226
REvenson@baylegal.orgMicaela Davis
mdavis@aclunc.orgJonathan Bash
Colorado American Civil Liberties Union — Colorado Denise Maes
720-402-3121 or 720-273-7543
District of Columbia Tzedek DC Sarah Hollender
(202) 274-5756 
Florida American Civil Liberties Union — Florida Benjamin Stevenson
Idaho Idaho Legal Aid Services Howard Belodoff
Illinois Chicago Appleseed Aditi Singh
Indiana Indiana Legal Services, Inc. Adam Mueller
Iowa Iowa Legal Aid Alex Kornya
Kansas Kansas Appleseed Benet Magnuson
Louisiana Southern Poverty Law Center Ashley Levett
Maryland Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service Amy P. Hennen
Michigan Equal Justice Under Law Stephanie Storey
Mississippi Southern Poverty Law Center Ashley Levett
Montana Equal Justice Under Law Stephanie Storey
New Hampshire New Hampshire Legal Assistance Cheryl Steinberg
New Jersey New Jersey Institute for Social Justice Scott Novakowski
973-624-9400 x30Andrea McChristian
973-624-9400 x35
North Carolina North Carolina Justice Center Daniel Bowes
Ohio American Civil Liberties Union — Ohio Mike Brickner
mbrickner@acluohio.orgElizabeth Bonham
Pennsylvania Equal Justice Under Law Stephanie Storey
Rhode Island Rhode Island Center for Justice John Willumsen-Friedman
Tennessee Just City

National Center for Law & Economic Justice

Civil Rights Corps
Baker Donelson

Just City: Josh Spickler, 901-216-2024,

NCLEJ: Claudia Wilner, 212-633-6967,

Civil Rights Corps: Premal Dharia, 202-780-7594,

Baker Donelson: Matt White, 901-577-8182,

Texas Texas Appleseed Mary Schmid Mergler
Virginia Legal Aid Justice Center Angela Ciolfi
Washington Equal Justice Under Law Stephanie Storey