News

Posted by

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Scott Simpson, scott@muslimadvocates.org
Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, simon@justice4all.org
Nicole Vogt, nicole@npstrategygroup.com

Civil Rights Groups Settle Case Against Trump Administration’s Inhumane Family Separation Policies

Settlement Could Give Well Over 1,000 Parents Another Chance at Asylum

Washington, DC, September 12, 2018 – In accordance with a new agreement reached today in Dora v. Sessions and companion cases Ms. L v. ICE and M.M.M. v. Sessions – three legal actions that are challenging the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance and family-separation policies – the government has agreed that all parents still in the United States who underwent the asylum interview process after being forcibly separated from their children and subsequently had their claim rejected will now have a second chance to have their asylum request reviewed, including the opportunity to submit additional evidence and testimony.  Today’s agreement, if approved by the court, will provide much needed relief to these parents and their children and will ensure that their asylum claims are properly considered by federal officials.

According to Sirine Shebaya, senior staff attorney for Muslim Advocates, “Today’s agreement is a significant victory for parents who were denied a real chance at asylum. The parents in these lawsuits all came to the United States fleeing unspeakable violence and seeking shelter for themselves and their children. The government forcibly separated them from their children, causing them severe psychological trauma and denying them a meaningful opportunity to make their case for asylum. With this agreement, they will finally have a real chance to be heard and to secure safety and stability for themselves and their families.”

According to Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia, “Our government forcibly ripped children from the arms of asylum-seeking parents, and then asked them, debilitated by trauma, all by themselves, unrepresented by lawyers, to articulate complex legal claims without any support or accommodation.  With this settlement, those parents will now finally have a fair shot at winning protection in the United States.”

Dora v. Sessions was filed last month in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by Muslim Advocates and Legal Aid Justice Center on behalf of 29 plaintiffs forcibly separated from their children under the Trump administration’s cruel and inhumane “zero tolerance” policy.  The complaint alleged that, because of the disabling trauma of family separation, parents were confused, disoriented, unable to focus on anything other than the whereabouts and well-being of their children, and unable to adequately articulate their experiences to the interviewing officers. As a result, the plaintiffs received negative credible fear determinations, and faced immediate deportation. The complaint raised claims under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.

A copy of the settlement can be found here: Agreement Dora v Sessions

# # # 

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

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/

Posted by

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                              

Contact:  Tim Wallace, 434-529-1853, twallace@justice4all.org

Plaintiffs are Back to Challenge Virginia DMV’s Unconstitutional System of Suspending Licenses of Low-Income Drivers Who are Unable to Pay Court Debts

Commonwealth’s law unfairly traps low-income people in a vicious cycle of debt, unemployment, and incarceration

Charlottesville, Va., September 11, 2018 – Today the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) filed an amended complaint, motion for class certification, and motion for preliminary injunction in Stinnie v. Holcomb, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute automatically suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines. The original complaint was filed in 2016, dismissed by the district court in 2017, and revived by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018 when it permitted the plaintiffs to amend their complaint.

The amended complaint alleges that Virginia’s license-for-payment suspension statute violates the due process and equal protection rights of low-income drivers suffering under license suspensions for no other reason that they cannot afford to pay court fines and costs.

Nearly one million Virginians (approximately 1 in 6 drivers) currently have suspended licenses for failure to timely pay court fines and fees. The suspension process happens automatically after even one delinquent payment and can end up lasting years, especially for low-income residents who must prioritize their essential basic needs: rent, utilities, groceries, and taking care of the health and welfare of their children and other relatives, including those who are elderly and/or have disabilities.

For far too many, this harsh suspension law forces a choice between providing for their families and risking incarceration for driving illegally. In Virginia, a third offense for driving without a license carries a mandatory sentence of 10 days’ jail time. From 2011-2015, Virginians who had lost their license only for failure to pay court fines and fees were sentenced to a total of approximately 1.74 million days in jail for driving on a suspended license. Such incarceration not only prevents people from paying their existing court debt, it adds new debt to their balance and costs the Commonwealth hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to keep debtors behind bars.

The time has come for courts and policymakers to recognize this license-for-payment system for what it is: an unconstitutional deprivation that props up a form of debtors’ prison in the Commonwealth. Nearly 87% of Virginians travel to work by car, and reliable, accessible public transit remains scarce throughout the state, making a driver’s license essential to finding and maintaining employment. For those whose licenses are their employment—truck drivers, construction vehicle operators, bus drivers, and even some healthcare positions, for example—a license suspension is effectively a job termination.

The case of Adrianne Johnson, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, is the embodiment of the kind of vicious cycle this license-for-payment system creates for low-income residents across the Commonwealth. Ms. Johnson accrued court debt in 2013 while working for low hourly wages as a nursing assistant. She attempted to maintain a payment plan to pay down $865 in court costs, but struggled to keep up with monthly payments while also caring for her two children, working jobs that typically paid between $7.25 and $10 per hour. She continued to risk driving because she needed to get to work and to take her daughter to doctors’ appointments. In 2017, she was convicted of driving on a suspended license, which added nearly $250 to her overall court debt. The compounding debt and an unreasonable payment plan have led to another automatic license suspension for Ms. Johnson, and she does not drive anymore, which has affected not only her employment prospects, but her daughter’s health, as well.

Ms. Johnson’s struggles parallel those faced by thousands upon thousands of low-income Virginians across the Commonwealth who owe court debt but are stripped of the very tool they need to pay it down.

“The suspension statute sets up two justice systems in Virginia,” said Angela Ciolfi, Director of Litigation and Advocacy at the Legal Aid Justice Center. “Those who can immediately pay court fines or fees are able to quickly untether themselves from their infractions, while those who do not have the resources to pay continue to be punished well beyond their original infraction—they are punished for their poverty, and set up for even harsher consequences as their debts compound, their jobs are lost, and their families struggle to make ends meet.”

Amended Complaint (pdf)

Memo Supporting Class Certification (pdf)

Memo Supporting Preliminary Injunction (pdf)

 

Background:

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

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

The case is now back in the district court to give the Plaintiffs an opportunity to amend their complaint, which they are doing today, along with filing motions for class certification and a preliminary injunction. In their motion, the Plaintiffs are asking the Court to order the DMV Commissioner to stop enforcing the statute, and to remove the unlawful suspensions from Plaintiffs’ driving records without charging a reinstatement fee.

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

About the Legal Aid Justice Center
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, civil rights, 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. 

Posted by

For Immediate Release:

Contact
Legal Aid Justice Center: Sophia Leticia Gregg, sophia@justice4all.org, 703-720-5602
Victor M. Glasberg & Associates, Victor M. Glasberg, vmg@robinhoodesq.com, 703-684-1100,

CLASS-ACTION LAWSUIT CHALLENGES CULPEPER COUNTY SHERIFF’S YEARS OF VIOLATING IMMIGRANTS’ CIVIL RIGHTS

Culpeper, VIRGINIA, September 10, 2018 – A Virginia resident has filed a class-action civil rights lawsuit against Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins for his unlawful practice of holding immigrants in jail past their release dates.  The lawsuit, brought by the Legal Aid Justice Center and Victor M. Glasberg and Associates, challenges the Sheriff’s policy of honoring “immigration detainers,” which are requests from U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) to hold individuals in local custody past the time they are ordered released by a state judge.  Unlike criminal warrants, immigration detainers are not signed by a judge and do not authorize a local jail to continue to incarcerate an individual.  Courts across the country have found that holding immigrants on ICE detainers violates their constitutional rights.

In 2015, Attorney General Mark Herring put Virginia sheriffs on notice that honoring immigration detainers was illegal when he issued an opinion aptly titled Legality of ICE Detainer Requests. Attorney General Herring’s opinion clearly stated, “[A]n adult inmate or a juvenile inmate with a fixed release date should be released from custody on that date notwithstanding the agency’s receipt of an ICE detainer.”

“I was pulled over and arrested for a minor traffic violation in Culpeper County, ” said Francisco Guardado Rios, the plantiff in this class action. “I never would have imagined that it would have led to me spending three months in jail.”  

According to Sophia Gregg, staff attorney at Legal Aid Justice Center: “This case stems from our ongoing advocacy in Culpeper County and countless stories like Mr. Guardado Rios’ that we heard over the course of many months. All people, regardless of their perceived immigration status, have the right to be free from unlawful incarceration.  For years Sheriff Jenkins has been acting outside of the law and today we begin the fight to hold him accountable.”

According to Vic Glasberg, veteran civil rights lawyer: “Keeping folks in jail without charges or a conviction is what happens in countries governed by tyrants.  Actions like this must be resisted by those interested in living in a free society.”

The lawsuit, Rios v. Jenkins, was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Charlottesville Division.  A copy of the complaint can be found at Culpepper Complaint.   

# # #

Legal Aid Justice Center is a statewide Virginia nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen the voices of low-income communities and root out the inequities that keep people in poverty. We provide legal support to immigrant communities facing legal crises and use advocacy and impact litigation to fight back against ICE enforcement and detention abuses. Our ‘De-ICE Virginia’ campaign seeks to sever the ties between local law enforcement and ICE. More information can be found at http://www.justice4all.org/current-initiatives/de-ice-virginia/

Victor M. Glasberg has been practicing civil rights law in his Alexandria, VA law firm since 1982.  Information about the firm may be found on its website www.robinhoodesq.com.

Posted by

For Immediate Release: August 22, 2018

 Contact: Deena N. Sharuk, deena@justice4all.org 434-977-0553

LAJC corrects ICE inaccuracies and joins call for ACRJ to end voluntary ICE notification

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – On Thursday, August 23, at 12:30pm, members of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail (ACRJ) Board will meet for a work session to discuss the jail’s voluntary policy of notifying Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the release date and time of immigrant inmates, so that ICE may detain them. Representatives of the Legal Aid Justice Center and other community members will be present to urge the Jail Board to stop voluntarily facilitating ICE’s federal immigration enforcement.

Previously, on January 25, the ACRJ Board held a special meeting to review the policy. At that meeting, ICE Field Office Director Russell Hott testified in support of the voluntary additional ICE notification policy. Based in part on Mr. Hott’s representations, the ACRJ voted 7 to 3 to maintain the additional ICE notification policy.

In a white paper (pdf)) released today, the Legal Aid Justice Center identified five false or misleading statements made by Mr. Hott in his testimony to the Board. Contrary to Mr. Hott’s statements:

  • Among the most common offenses for which immigrants at ACRJ become subject to ICE notification are getting drunk in public and not having a valid driver’s license.
  • The majority of immigrants in deportation proceedings do not have access to legal representation.
  • ICE does conduct raids.
  • ICE has the ability to seek an arrest warrant signed by a judge for criminal immigration violations. The sensitive nature of the underlying evidence is irrelevant to that pursuit.
  • Being present in the United States of America without permission is not a crime.

Among the sources of the white paper, LAJC analyzed data of the inmate population provided by the ACRJ in response to the LAJC’s Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA) request. The LAJC white paper has been shared with the members of the jail board.

“The current voluntary notification policy threatens our collective public safety, flouts protections within our criminal justice system, and disproportionately affects people of color,” says Deena Sharuk, attorney with the Immigrant Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center. “When local law enforcement are conflated with ICE, it makes our entire community less safe.”

Representatives from ICE are expected to argue in favor of continuing notifications. Commonwealth Attorneys from Albemarle County, the City of Charlottesville, and Nelson County are also invited to participate. Ms. Sharuk and local attorney Tanishka Cruz will advocate for an end to the current notification policy.

No decision is expected at the working session.  The board will meet again on September 13 for public comment and a final vote on the policy.  Members of the Jail board include Sheriff Chip Harding, Supervisor Diantha McKeel, Assistant County Executive Doug Walker, Ms. Cyndra Van Clief, City Council Member Dr. Wes Bellamy. Sheriff James Brown, Interim City Manager Mike Murphy, Ms. Kathy Harris, Mr. W. Lawton Tufts, Sheriff David Hill, and County Executive Steven Carter.

# # #

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.

 

Posted by

For Immediate Release:

Contact
Legal Aid Justice Center: Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, simon@justice4all.org
Muslim Advocates: Scott Simpson, scott@muslimadvocates.org
Nicky Vogt, nicole@npstrategygroup.com


PARENTS OF CHILDREN FORCIBLY SEPARATED WHILE SEEKING ASYLUM FILE SUIT AGAINST U.S. GOVERNMENT
Dora v. Sessions cites extreme trauma at the hands of U.S. immigration authorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#  #  #

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

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 https://www.justice4all.org/current-initiatives/fighting-ice-enforcement-abuses/ .

Posted by

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contacts
Patrick Getlein
Senior Vice President
The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis
patrick@thecommonwealthinstitute.org
804-396-2051 x103

Rachael Deane
Legal Director, JustChildren Program
Legal Aid Justice Center
rachael@justice4all.org
804-521-7304

Virginia Understaffs Positions Critical to Student Safety While Student Enrollment Grows

RICHMOND, VA, August 20, 2018 — Staffing in Virginia’s K-12 schools falls far short of recommended benchmarks for school counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses, according to a new report from The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis and the Legal Aid Justice Center. Decreases in staffing and a growing student population have left counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses with increased caseloads and administrative responsibilities and less time for direct student support.

The report notes that student enrollment in Virginia’s schools has grown by more than 57,000
students since 2008, while overall school support staff positions decreased by 2,356 over the
same decade. School counselor caseloads increased nearly 30 percent — from 300 students in
2007-2008 to 385 students in 2015-2016. School counselors, social workers, psychologists, and
nurses play essential roles in meeting student mental health needs, keeping all students safe
and engaged, and helping students achieve academic and career success.

“These professionals provide vital services, including mental health care, and contribute to a
positive school climate in which all members of the school community feel safe,” said Rachael
Deane, Legal Director of the JustChildren Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center. “But a lack
of resources for these positions means we’re asking them to do more with less. Investing in
adequate staffing improves academic and health outcomes for all students.”

The report details the specialized services provided by school counselors, social workers,
psychologists, and nurses, including their important role in cultivating student safety. These
school professionals help to meet the mental health needs of students, connect students and
families with wraparound services, implement school-wide positive behavior support, reduce the
use of exclusionary discipline, and assist students with academic and career development.

“School counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses have an important impact on
student success. As their responsibilities increase that impact could increase as well,” says
Chris Duncombe, senior policy analyst with The Commonwealth Institute. “But only if schools
have sufficient staffing.”

The report recommends that Virginia lawmakers adopt proposals by the Virginia Board of
Education to amend Virginia’s Standards of Quality and establish higher staffing standards for
these positions. In 2017, the Virginia Board of Education recommended caseloads of one
school counselor for every 250 students, one school social worker for every 1,000 students, one
school psychologist for every 1,000 students, and one school nurse for every 550 students.

Read the report here.

The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis provides credible, independent, and accessible
information and analyses of fiscal and economic issues with particular attention to the impacts
on low- and moderate-income persons. Our products inform fiscal and budget policy debates
and contribute to sound decisions that improve the well-being of individuals, communities and
Virginia as a whole. 

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.

Posted by

For Immediate Release:

Contact
Tim Wallace, Director of Development
434-529-1853
twallace@justice4all.org

PLAINTIFFS’ STATEMENT ON THE FOURTH CIRCUIT DECISION IN MANNING V. CALDWELL

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA, August 8, 2018 — Today a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Manning v. Caldwell, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” statute, which criminalizes the possession or consumption of alcohol by homeless alcoholics. The panel affirmed the decision of the district court dismissing the case.  Nevertheless, one of the judges stated in an opinion concurring in the judgment only that “[a]bsent binding circuit precedent, I would hold that [the Plaintiffs]… have alleged an Eighth Amendment violation.

Despite recognizing that “it is the practice of totalitarian regimes, not our free society, to substitute a personal characteristic for a prohibited act,” two of the three judges on the panel nonetheless found that Virginia’s interdiction statute—which relies on personal characteristics, namely alcohol addiction and homelessness, to punish the otherwise innocent activity of adult possession or consumption of alcohol—was constitutional because, in their view, it criminalizes acts, not status.

In a strongly worded opinion siding with the Plaintiffs, Judge Motz vehemently disagreed, observing that “the Commonwealth’s statutory scheme effectively targets and punishes homeless alcoholics based on their illness.” Judge Motz’s opinion states unequivocally that Virginia’s interdiction statute is unconstitutional. She concurred in the judgment “with reluctance and regret” only because of Fourth Circuit rules preventing the panel from overturning prior, even if erroneous, circuit precedent, which the panel majority itself acknowledged did not properly apply Supreme Court precedent.

“The Fourth Circuit’s decision today perpetuates an antiquated law that brands people and singles them out for punishment based on a disease,” said Elaine Poon, managing attorney for the Legal Aid Justice Center, “We will keep fighting to win relief for the thousands of people who are guilty of nothing more than being homeless and addicted to alcohol.”

The legal team is considering petitioning for en banc review by the full Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Today’s decision is here.

Background:
In March 2016, the Legal Aid Justice Center of Virginia (LAJC) and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP filed a class action lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” statute, to the extent it criminalizes the possession or consumption of alcohol by homeless individuals suffering from alcoholism. The complaint asserts that Commonwealth’s Attorneys Offices across Virginia have used the state’s outdated “habitual drunkard” statute, or Interdiction Statute (Va. Code § 4.1-322), 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. Virginia’s antiquated interdiction law imposes penalties far beyond the state law prohibiting public intoxication, which results in only a small fine. The Interdiction Statute, by contrast, allows a Commonwealth’s attorney to petition the circuit court to declare someone a “habitual drunkard.” Once given this stigmatizing label, that person is subject to up to a year in jail if caught simply possessing alcohol.

To read more about the lawsuit, or to download the briefs, go to https://www.justice4all.org/?s=drunkard .

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. 

Posted by

For Immediate Release: 

Contact:
CAIR Coalition: Sheena Pegarido, media@caircoalition.org, 202-559-4431
LAJC: Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, simon@justice4all.org, 703-720-5605
Muslim Advocates: Scott Simpson, scott@muslimadvocates.org, 202-735-1984

CLASS-ACTION LAWSUIT CHALLENGES ICE’S POLICY OF KEEPING IMMIGRANTS DETAINED AFTER THEY WIN THEIR CASES
Immigrants’ rights groups fight policy that keeps immigrants behind bars after they win cases

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA, July 23, 2018 — The Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, Legal Aid Justice Center, and Muslim Advocates have filed a class-action lawsuit on Friday to challenge a new and fundamentally unfair policy that keeps immigrants detained after they win their cases, violating the basic tenets of due process.

Previously, when detained immigrants won their cases seeking withholding of removal, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would generally release them right away, barring some specific reason otherwise. Now, ICE’s new policy is to hold all such immigrants behind bars and keep them apart from their families for an additional 90 days, for no good reason. Withholding of removal, similar to asylum, is a protection granted by an immigration judge to people who have successfully proven they will be persecuted or killed if returned to their home country.

“There is absolutely no reason the government should continue keeping immigrants behind bars after they win their cases,” said Claudia Cubas, litigation director at CAIR Coalition. “We will fight this egregious policy, and if we win in Virginia, this will pave the way to eliminate this policy nationwide.” “A judge has already decided that these folks will not be deported. They’ll be allowed to live here and remain productive members of society,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center. “So why is ICE keeping them locked up for three more months? Just for spite?”

“We have seen a pattern of ICE enforcement against people who have no business being in jail. The unnecessary, unlawful, and costly detention of individuals who have already won their cases is yet another example of punitive policies designed to target immigrants and people of color and dissuade them from fighting their cases,” said Sirine Shebaya, Senior Staff Attorney at Muslim Advocates. “ICE should stop this practice immediately and allow these individuals to rejoin their family members and communities, as required by the law.” The case is entitled Sanchez-Acosta v. Sessions, No. 1:18-cv-872, and is pending before Judge Liam O’Grady in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. A ruling is expected this fall.

###

The Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition strives to ensure equal justice for all immigrant men, women, and children at risk of detention and deportation in the DC metropolitan area and beyond through direct legal representation, know your rights presentations, impact and advocacy work, and the training of attorneys defending immigrants in the immigration and criminal justice arenas. More information can be found at http://www.caircoalition.org.

Legal Aid Justice Center is a statewide Virginia nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen the voices of low-income communities and root out the inequities that keep people in poverty. We provide legal support to immigrant communities facing legal crises, and use advocacy and impact litigation to fight back against ICE enforcement and detention abuses. Our ‘De-ICE Virginia’ campaign seeks to sever the ties between local law enforcement and ICE. More information can be found at https://www.justice4all.org/current-initiatives/fighting-ice-enforcement-abuses/.

Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths. More information can be found at http://www.muslimadvocates.org.

###

Posted by

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

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

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

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


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

 

Posted by

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Sylvia Cosby Jones, Esq., Managing Attorney
Legal Aid Justice Center
804-521-7305 | sylvia@justice4all.org


PUBLIC HOUSING TENANTS REACH SETTLEMENT WITH RICHMOND REDEVELOMENT AND HOUSING AUTHORITY ON CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT

Richmond, Va., July 11, 2018—
Yesterday, U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney, Jr., of the Eastern District of Virginia Federal Court, approved a class action settlement between Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority and a group of tenants, valued at more than two and a half million dollars. The settlement and final order resolved a federal class action lawsuit challenging RRHA’s failure to properly set and implement tenant utility allowances.  A fairness hearing was held on July 10, 2018, and Judge Gibney signed the order shortly thereafter.  

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, $1,182,984.76 will be distributed among current and former Richmond public housing tenants who were subjected to RRHA’s utility surcharges from November 1, 2012, through October 31, 2016.  An additional $112,876.10 will be returned to tenants through implementation of new utility allowances. The new allowances will result in reduced charges to tenants of approximately $1.3 million over three years, thus bringing the total amount of cash and other relief for tenants to approximately $2.6 million.

The class action lawsuit, filed in February 2017, alleged that RRHA’s failure to properly set, implement, and charge electric utility allowances, resulted in unlawful excessive charges to current and former public housing tenants.  Federal law requires that public housing tenants not be charged more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities. A class of plaintiffs, represented by lawyers at Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), and Thomas D. Domonoske of Consumer Litigation Associates, contended that these excessive charges increased tenants’ share of their housing costs, and caused tenants to pay more than allowed in violation of federal law, state law, and tenants’ leases.

In approving the settlement, Judge Gibney found that the relief to tenants and former tenants was fair, reasonable, and adequate.  During the fairness hearing, he commended the named plaintiffs in the action for their bravery in “standing up to city hall.”

In addition to monetary relief, under the terms of the settlement agreement Judge Gibney has approved, RRHA will:

  • Set and implement new, higher utility allowances that will stay in place for at least 3 years.
  • Create new notices, policies and procedures for elderly and disabled tenants needing additional electric usage due to their conditions.
  • Change its billing statements to give tenants more information about their utility surcharges.
  • Not bill to residents the Dominion “customer charge” unless HUD fails to reimburse RRHA for these charges at the same rate it reimburses RRHA for other operating costs.
  • Change its lease so that late fees and other non-rent charges are not treated as rent.
  • Change its lease so that it states whether a tenant has submetered utilities and list each tenant’s utility allowance.
  • Ensure RRHA staff is trained regarding utility billing procedures, tenant requests for relief from utility billing, and the grievance procedure for tenants to contest charges.
  • Use unclaimed refunds to create an energy efficiency fund for the benefit of RRHA public housing residents who need assistance maintaining energy efficient homes.

Shanta Miles, a named plaintiff in the case, said of the final settlement: “Unfair excess utility charges put so many families in a state of panic and helplessness.  Our efforts to get the housing authority to do the right thing was well worth the many years we put into it; and today we have insured that there will be better accountability between RRHA and tenants.” 

Sylvia Cosby Jones, lead counsel for the Plaintiffs, added: “This is a great day for the tenants and former tenants, who not only will be compensated for past unfair charges, but who will have a clearer and fairer process for bills going forward. We are pleased that RRHA worked hard with our clients to come to an agreement that satisfied all parties.”      

Final Order (pdf) 

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

About Thomas D. Domonoske
Mr. Domonoske, representing the Plaintiffs in this case, is of counsel with Consumer Litigation Associates.  His primary emphasis is on using the civil justice system to remedy credit-related frauds, including predatory lending, debt collection, and credit reporting.  He has published many articles on several aspects of consumer law in various professional publications.  In the past seventeen years he has given over 140 consumer law trainings at various events around the country and regularly trains JAG lawyers for the United States military.  He has served as a member of the Harrisonburg City School Board and also on the Board of Directors of the Fairfield Center and the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

 ###