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6 Things To Know Right Now
about the recent Virginia budget amendment
to freeze driver’s license suspensions for unpaid court debt:

 

1. The budget amendment should lift current driver’s license suspensions for unpaid or delinquent court debt no later than July 1, 2019, and will prevent future such suspensions beginning July 1, 2019 and lasting until July 1, 2020. Even so, we don’t yet know exactly how or when these suspended licenses will be officially reinstated—stay tuned for more information from us.

2. Though it lifts current court debt-related driver’s license suspensions and prevents future such suspensions for the next budget year, the amendment does not cancel court debt owed.

You will still be required to pay your court debt, & the court could still pursue collections against you with mechanisms that include, among others: wage garnishment, tax intercept, debt collector intervention, and, possibly, issuing a kind of warrant called a “show cause” that will require you to appear in court to answer for the debt, which could result in some jail time or additional debt if the court finds that you could pay but simply did not do so.

In some cases, payment of your court debt may be a part of probation requirements or to maintain a suspended jail sentence term—please consult your attorney in these matters for advice.

3. The budget amendment only lifts/prevents license suspensions that are solely due to unpaid court debt. This does not include, for example, license suspensions given for unpaid child support. It does not include suspensions directly resulting from convictions for reckless driving, DUI, or simple possession. However, if you were convicted for these or other criminal or traffic convictions, and got court debt that you couldn’t pay, it would include a license suspension based solely on any unpaid court debt tied to those convictions.

4. It’s possible to have more than one kind of driver’s license suspension at the same time. If you have a license suspension for an offense like a DUI, reckless driving, etc., AND a license suspension for unpaid court debt, the budget amendment should still cause the unpaid court debt suspension to be lifted. This means, however, that the other suspension(s) will still be in effect. Again, the best way to keep track of this is to obtain your DMV compliance report as soon after July 1, 2019 as you can.

5. The Virginia state budget that contains this budget language goes into effect July 1, 2019, but we don’t yet know exactly when eligible driver’s licenses will be officially reinstated. If you drive, please drive with caution—our best advice is to seek your DMV compliance report until it shows your suspensions have been lifted and your license has been reinstated. Then, you may want to carry the compliance report with you if you drive, just as a precaution.

6. If your driver’s license was suspended solely for unpaid court debt, you should not be charged the $145+ license reinstatement fee by the DMV for that reinstatement. If you have another type of license suspension, or if you need to obtain a new driver’s license or renew an expired one, the DMV may charge you fees related to either reinstating your license once the time period for your other suspension has expired, or fees associated with renewing or first obtaining a license. If your only license suspension is for unpaid court debt, however, and you would otherwise have a current, valid license, you should not be charged a fee.

If you have questions about your driver’s license suspension, you can call our Drive Down The Debt hotline to leave us a message—we will get back to you: (434) 422-5085

Access a share-able PDF of this FAQ here.

For more information about our work on these issues, please visit our website at http://www.justice4all.org/drive.

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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

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
APRIL 3, 2019

LEGAL AID JUSTICE CENTER
Contact: Amy Woolard, 434-529-1846, amy@justice4all.org

BUDGET AMENDMENT REINSTATING DRIVER’S LICENSES FOR THOUSANDS OF VIRGINIANS PASSES

Today the General Assembly rose to a tremendous occasion and passed a budget amendment that brings fairness and justice to the lives of hundreds of thousands of Virginians whose driver’s licenses will now be reinstated from suspensions levied for unpaid court fines and fees.  This amendment will also help countless others by preventing future court debt-related suspensions for the remaining duration of the state budget.  All Virginians must have a fair opportunity to fulfill their obligations without losing their jobs, their ability to care for their families, and their dignity.

We are so grateful to Sen. Bill Stanley, the members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Governor Northam and his administration, and all the policymakers who shepherded this effort to success.  We are also thankful for our many partners in advocacy who fought with us for this common-sense reform.

Without question, we celebrate an important victory today along with many of our clients in the Stinnie v Holcomb litigation, but we also hold the understanding that our efforts are not complete.  The passage of this amendment does not moot the Stinnie case, nor does it end our legislative advocacy: the action taken in this amendment lives only as long as the current budget cycle, “freezing” court debt-related driver’s license suspensions until the existing statute can be fully repealed.  For today, however, we are only filled with gratitude for this positive step, and will wait another day to assess what work is left to be done.

 

 

 

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Educate Every Child: A Snapshot of the 2019 Legislative Session

 

Our JustChildren program’s Educate Every Child campaign is one of our longest, most ambitious efforts; it seeks to fulfill the promise of our state Constitution to ensure a free, high-quality, public education to all children in the Commonwealth. Our policy work focuses on improving the critical attributes of such a system: equity, access, support, quality, opportunity, and sustainability, all of which create more justice for our clients and their families. We also specifically seek to redress the racial inequities that persist in our schools and to dismantle the effects of the racist laws and policies upon which our public K-12 education system was historically built.

During the 2019 General Assembly session, we reached some significant milestones in our ongoing work to increase support staff and decrease criminalization of students in Virginia’s public schools. As of the close of the regular session, we successfully championed the following:

Reducing School Counselor Caseloads

  • Partnering with The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, we helped secure an initial $12 million to seed a phase-in plan to reduce school counselor caseloads to the nationally recognized best practice of one counselor per 250 students (1:250), across school levels. We continue to advocate for a Governor’s budget amendment for the 2019 Reconvened Session to fully fund the Year One plan at $36 million, and will further advocate for the full three-year plan (or better) in the coming biennial budget for the 2020 session.

Increased Targeted Funding for Low-Income Students

Mandatory Training for School Resource Officers

  • As part of our yearlong effort to direct reinvigorated focus on “school safety” towards prevention and positive supports to students, we successfully advanced bills and policy initiatives through the House Select Committee on School Safety, the Governor’s School Safety workgroup within the Children’s Cabinet, and the Virginia Commission on Youth to require all School Resource Officers (SROs) to be trained to meet minimum certification and re-certification standards established by the Department of Criminal Justice Services. We’ll continue working with DCJS to ensure those standards include training in topics like working with students with disabilities, cultural competency, the mental health needs of students, child and adolescent development, and mediation and de-escalation skills. We were also able to limit additional funding for SROs to existing positions—no small feat in an era when more law enforcement is a popular response to school safety concerns.

Mandatory MOUs for Cops in Schools

  • Within that same “school safety” work with the relevant committees, we successfully advanced a legislative policy initiative to require Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between local school divisions and local law enforcement whenever SROs are placed in schools, in an effort to define and refine the scope of police duties and actions in the school environment. SROs should not be responsible for or reacting to school discipline matters. These bills emerged from the House Select Committee on School Safety through our yearlong effort to shape that committee’s focus and agenda.

Increased Transparency & Accountability in Disciplinary Alternative Education

While successes like the ones listed above might seem to become fully assembled over the course of one legislative session, the behind-the-scenes story unfolds over a much longer timeline. Our advocacy to improve support staff in schools, for example, measures itself in decades.

Most recently, last year during the 2018 legislative session, in partnership with Sen. Jennifer McClellan, we brought the most recent recommendations from the Virginia Board of Education to fully fund the Virginia Standards of Quality to the General Assembly, in the form of several budget amendments designed to eliminate the arbitrary decade-old cap on school support staff and assure that students had adequate access to school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses. The presentation of those amendments in committee helped once again put the General Assembly on notice that our public K-12 system is radically underfunded, and that the Commonwealth is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide high-quality education to Virginia students.

We then leveraged the awareness we raised during the 2018 session into both broad-based and targeted advocacy within the various school safety committees and workgroups over the past year, to again demand adequate school funding for K-12—especially for economically disadvantaged students, this time zeroing in on school counselors and the At-Risk Add-On funding as priority measures. Among our efforts:

  • In July 2018, we authored a letter to the House Select Committee on School Safety, the Governor and the Children’s Cabinet, and the Virginia Commission on Youth outlining detailed policy recommendations for improving school safety in Virginia schools, with proposals including: increasing school counselors, improving SRO training, and requiring MOUs when using law enforcement in schools. We secured more than 25 organizational co-signers to the letter, and many of our recommendations became a part of each of these group’s final school safety platform.
  • In August 2018, with The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, we released a report, “Investing in Student Safety and Success: The Growing Importance of Effective Staffing in Virginia Schools,” which outlined the multi-faceted need for support staff in our schools.
  • In November 2018, we hosted a Legislative Listening Session for current school counselors to share their experiences and recommendations directly with legislators. The event was held at ART180, in the midst of an art installation created primarily by current or formerly incarcerated students entitled “Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out.”
  • Prior to and during the 2019 legislative session, we helped several legislators and Gov. Northam’s administration to draft the successful legislation that will expand SRO training and provide for the statewide use of rigorous MOUs between schools and law enforcement. We successfully advocated for the inclusion of the Department of Criminal Justice Services model MOU as a framework with which the local agreements must align. We worked diligently on this DCJS model as it was developed in 2015-2016, based in large part on our own model school/law MOU within our 2016 report on school policing, which adheres to best practices and a student-centered, trauma-informed approach. 

The road to equity, access, support, quality, opportunity, and sustainability for Virginia’s schools is a highway, not a cul-de-sac. Even with these victories, our work will continue—into the coming legislative sessions, within administrative agencies, in conversation with the media, in collaboration with our organizational coalitions (which commonly include groups like The Commonwealth Institute For Fiscal Analysis and the Virginia School Counselors Association), and—most importantly and urgently—in partnership with affected communities. We will continue to prioritize racial equity and an anti-racist agenda in our policy advocacy and partnerships. And we will continue to use data to help tell the policy stories necessary to effect change. This post maps only two years’ worth of our commitment to demanding that Virginia fulfil its constitutional duty to assure every child receives a high-quality public education; the successes detailed here grow out of two decades of JustChildren’s efforts, and serves only as a mile-marker in our ongoing work. We’re grateful to our partners and the children, families, and communities we represent—building this path will take every one of us together.

To stay up-to-date on our Educate Every Child and school funding campaigns, please sign up for our alerts here.

 

 

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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.

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Norfolk City Jail helps ICE arrest and deport Virginia immigrants.

In August 2017, the Norfolk City Jail entered a modified Intergovernmental Service Agreement (IGSA) with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to allow immigrants in ICE custody to be temporarily held by the Jail.  Since then an estimated 1,200 immigrants in ICE custody have been held at the Jail, most of whom have not had a hearing before a judge and many with no criminal history. 

Read full report: ICE ON THE HARBOR

Press Coverage: Virginian Pilot

Join LAJC and local organizations for a community discussion on Norfolk Jail’s partnership with ICE.

 

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For Immediate Release

Contact:            Amy Woolard, (434) 529-1846, amy@justice4all.org

                        Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, (703) 720-5605, simon@justice4all.org

NEW VIRGINIA LAWS HELP IMMIGRANT CHILDREN SEEK PROTECTION FROM ABUSE, NEGLECT, AND ABANDONMENT

RICHMOND: On Friday, February 22, the Virginia General Assembly passed SB 1758 and HB 2679, identical bills that will aid immigrant children fleeing abuse, neglect, and abandonment in their home countries in seeking protection from deportation in Virginia.

Across the country, many immigrant children and DREAMers facing deportation proceedings seek a form of immigration relief called “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status” (SIJS). SIJS is unique in that it requires a state court to issue a certain type of order before the child may even attempt to seek SIJS relief from the federal government. In a 2017 case called Canales v. Torres-Orellana, brought by the Legal Aid Justice Center, the Virginia Court of Appeals sharply restricted state judges’ ability to issue these orders, leaving hundreds of Virginia immigrant children without protection. Virginia became one of the most difficult states in the nation to obtain SIJS.

During this year’s General Assembly session, Legal Aid Justice Center worked closely with legislators and the Governor’s office to pass these bills, which would overturn the Canales case and restore Virginia immigrant children’s ability to apply for SIJS. The bills also address the needs of other children before the juvenile courts, easing the way for any Virginia child to seek a state court’s assistance in proving eligibility for other benefits such as adoption assistance, TANF assistance, and timely public school enrollment.

SB 1758 was introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon). HB 2679 was introduced by Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church). The bills initially took different approaches to fixing this issue, and each passed their respective chambers with an overwhelming bipartisan majority of votes. The bills were then placed into committees of conference in an attempt to gain consensus, and identical bills emerged that combined the approach of both; they garnered unanimous support in the House, and only two dissenting votes in the Senate. The bills now go to Governor Northam’s desk for his signature; once signed, they will take effect on July 1 of this year. The conference report with bill text is available at: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?191+ful+SB1758S1+pdf

“Immigrant children in Virginia can breathe a little more easily now,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Director of Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program. “Our agency has represented over 150 children fleeing truly horrific situations of abuse or neglect in their home countries. Fairness dictates that they be afforded the same rights as immigrant children in any other state. Now these new DREAMers will be able to seek protection and apply to remain in the United States with green cards.”

“This excellent result could not have come about without the leadership and hard work of Senator Surovell and Delegate Simon, and the support of Governor Northam’s administration,” said Amy Woolard, Legal Aid Justice Center Attorney and Policy Coordinator. “Virginia’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts should exist to protect the best interests of all children in the Commonwealth, and these bills will now make clear that is true for immigrant children seeking safety through SIJS, as well.”

“The United States has a long history of protecting abused, neglected, and abandoned children, and the Commonwealth will continue to play its part,” said Sen. Surovell. “These bills will clarify and restore Virginia courts’ authority to make factual findings necessary to protect children fleeing abuse, neglect, and abandonment from abroad, and I appreciate the broad bipartisan support of legislators who saw this as consistent with Virginia’s longstanding values.”

“I’m so pleased we were able to pass this important legislation to give our courts the authority they need to be able help some of the most vulnerable and powerless people in our Commonwealth,” said Del. Simon. “It is so important that we not let victims of abuse, neglect, and often abandonment fall through the cracks because of a technical deficiency in our code. Those are the common sense problems we are elected to come down here and fix.”

A downloadable PDF of this statement may be accessed here.

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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/.

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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.”

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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/.

 

About Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox
Based in Washington, D.C. and renown for more than four decades for dedication to the protection, transfer, and enforcement of intellectual property rights, Sterne Kessler is one of the most highly regarded intellectual property specialty law firms in the world. Its team of attorneys, registered patent agents, students, and technical specialists include some of the country’s most respected practitioners of IP law, tackling innovations across a broad spectrum of industries. The firm’s practitioners hold nearly 50 masters and 50+ doctorate degrees in science or engineering and represent Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs, start-ups, inventors, venture capital firms, and universities in a client service driven environment that is welcoming, inclusive, and intellectually stimulating. The firm also has an award-wining pro bono practice. Visit the firm online at sternekessler.com.

About Southern Poverty Law Center
The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, visit www.splcenter.org.

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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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