Round of Applause Meet the lawyers—almost all women—fighting America’s border battle
The refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico, was buzzing the morning of Feb. 29. Hundreds sat on concrete steps, their children in their arms, clamoring to hear the half-dozen or so lawyers delivering the news. The night before, many of them had gathered their meager possessions and began queuing at the Liberty International Bridge into Brownsville, Texas. After what had been months of fruitless waiting, they thought they may finally get their claims for asylum processed and be able to leave this place rife with extortion and violence. One mother had even dressed her tiny son in a suit, hoping perhaps that today was finally the day they would see the inside of a courtroom.
But the lawyers knew their message was disappointing. While the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco had temporarily struck down the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy — officially titled the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP — within a few hours the decision was paused until the Supreme Court weighed in. They gathered to discuss tactics, led by the linchpin of their efforts, Charlene D’Cruz, a hard-charging, Mumbai-born immigration lawyer and head of Project Corazon, the Matamoros legal office set up by the nonprofit Lawyers for Good Government. She scribbled talking points on white printer paper: “Biz as usual” read one bullet point, a nod to the fact that the ruling had changed nothing in the short term. “General fuckery” read another, a nod to her ever-mounting frustration.
They then separated, with each lawyer delivering these charlas, “chats,” across the camp of more than 2,500 people. These attorneys are part of a small, insanely overworked club of mostly women navigating the front line of America’s immigration debate, which is now concentrated in a handful of border towns teeming with migrants.
Read the story on Ozy
More of This You can’t end COVID-19 without criminal justice reform
The US has become rightfully obsessed with “flattening the curve” to ensure we — as people, and as an economy— can recover as quickly as possible from COVID-19. This means minimizing contact between people, and particularly isolating vulnerable populations like the immuno-compromised and those over 60 years old.
Unfortunately, over 2 million people across the country — including elders, pregnant women and others who are on that vulnerable list — don’t currently have the choice to socially distance because they are in prison or immigrant detention. Thirty-one prosecutors nationally, those you might assume are normally tasked to put people behind bars, are now actually advocating to let more people out to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons, where an outbreak could spread like wildfire, and then impact the general population as people are ultimately released. The pandemic is therefore not just bad news for inmates, but their continued incarceration is a major public health risk to everyone.
Though no one can predict the exact multiplier effect that the virus spread in jails and prisons will have on society at large, the former chief medical officer at Rikers Island is confident of this: “To the extent that we don’t do a good job in jails and prisons, we will certainly prolong the life of this outbreak.” The prosecutors are therefore proposing immediate actions like releasing people solely held because they can’t pay cash bail, compassionate release, for instance, for those with terminal illnesses, and adopting cite-and-release policies for minor drug offenses to help reduce the jail and prison population in the midst of this pandemic.
While these steps could help stem the crisis and reduce overcrowding in prison, the recent concern around COVID-19 also invites broader questions around the general premise of mass incarceration and immigrant detention: why do we incarcerate a greater percentage of our citizens than any other country, and is it actually making us safer? Are these proposed reforms simply about COVID-19 — or could they help build a stronger criminal justice system for the long-term?
District Attorney Chesa Boudin is tasked with keeping the citizens of San Francisco safe. His philosophy, also embraced in cities like Philadelphia and Boston, is that public safety requires broad attention to public health — whether it’s around COVID-19, mental health, or substance abuse — and a more full-cost accounting of the criminal justice system as a whole. I talked with DA Boudin to learn more about how cities can prevent the spread of COVID-19 in jails, and also think about long-term reforms that can make the criminal justice system more fair and cost-effective for society.
Read the story on Forbes
More of This Too Her family’s hard time inspired her to become a social justice lawyer
Jenny Mendoza is a strong, independent young woman, and a role model for others. On a recent weekend afternoon, she spent some time at a neighborhood meal, sharing with friends and family her many accomplishments as a college student, including internships and academic success.
But Mendoza has also seen her share of tough times. During the economic downtown and subsequent housing crisis, her family lost their home to foreclosure. There were also troubles within the family.
“So growing up, my dad … he did drink a lot,” shared Mendoza. “And you know, there was other instances of, like, domestic abuse.”
Education became Mendoza’s salvation, a way to cope with the challenges her family faced.
“I found school to just be a home,” recalled Mendoza. “Like a home away from home, a safe space for me.”
Soon she was accepted to college. But when the school year started, new challenges emerged. Her parents divorced, and Mendoza struggled.
“And I thought that, you know, those challenges are really what breaks students in college,” recalled Mendoza. “It’s not the academics. Academics you can get help for. Where do you get help for your life?”
Mendoza received support from Students Rising Above, and others. While the experience would eventually inspire her to help and mentor other young people who find themselves in difficult situations, Mendoza acknowledged it was tough. But being away from home at such a difficult time also proved be a blessing of sorts, as the distance allowed Mendoza to see her parents and community from a new perspective.
“Just seeing the pain that a lot of women in my community went through, and just also the men. You know, there’s a lot of toxic, toxic masculinity and just all this pressure as well,” said Mendoza. “I think that recognizing that and knowing that … that’s a very prevalent thing in our community really just made me understand how I cannot become that. I really wanted to just be the change.”
Read the story on CBS
Watch This For the few black women prosecutors, hate is part of daily life
Less of This Two thirds of Trump’s judges are white men, and all of them are conservative ideologues
As a Republican candidate for the Texas Supreme Court, Don R. Willett flaunted his uncompromising conservatism, boasting of endorsements from groups with “pro-life, pro-faith, pro-family” credentials.
“I intend to build such a fiercely conservative record on the court that I will be unconfirmable for any future federal judicial post — and proudly so,” a Republican rival quoted him telling party leaders.
Judge Willett served a dozen years on the Texas bench. But rather than disqualifying him, his record there propelled him to the very job he had deemed beyond reach. President Trump nominated him to a federal appeals court, and Republicans in the Senate narrowly confirmed him on a party-line vote.
As Mr. Trump seeks re-election, his rightward overhaul of the federal judiciary — in particular, the highly influential appeals courts — has been invoked as one of his most enduring accomplishments. While individual nominees have drawn scrutiny, The New York Times conducted a deep examination of all 51 new appellate judges to obtain a collective portrait of the Trump-populated bench.
The review shows that the Trump class of appellate judges, much like the president himself, breaks significantly with the norms set by his Democratic and Republican predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
The lifetime appointees — who make up more than a quarter of the entire appellate bench — were more openly engaged in causes important to Republicans, such as opposition to gay marriage and to government funding for abortion.
They more typically held a political post in the federal government and donated money to political candidates and causes. Just four had no discernible political activity in their past, and several were confirmed in spite of an unfavorable rating from the American Bar Association — the first time that had happened at the appellate level in decades.
Two-thirds are white men, and as a group, they are much younger than the Obama and Bush appointees.
Read the story on NY Times
Perspective No, your coronavirus quarantine is not like being in prison
Jerry Metcalf, 45, is a writer incarcerated at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, Michigan. In addition to his published work, he volunteers as an aid to the mentally ill and trains service dogs for Paws with a Cause.
For those of you reading this who feel trapped or are going stir-crazy due to your coronavirus-induced confinement, the best advice I can give you—as someone used to suffering in long-term confinement—is to take a pause, inhale a few deep breaths, then look around at all the things you have to be grateful for.
That's what I've done each and every day for the past 25 years. Every morning when I awaken in my 8-by-10-foot cell, I peer out my small window and thank the Universe for such a view. It's not much, mostly razor wire and uniform-clad convicts. But out past all those layers of fencing rests a few acres of deep forest, teeming with life.
I've found that during trying times like these, the simplest things matter the most. Sure, you're trapped inside your home or apartment, but all's not lost. Hopefully you have family, friends or loved ones with you, or maybe a trusted pet. (Or if not, you’ve got wi-fi!)
Me, I have my trusted canine, Tootsie, a 15-month-old black lab, whom I am currently training to be a service dog for Paws With a Cause. But I have no family members or loved ones, only a cellmate who snores like a freight train and often whines insincerely about how he'd rather be dead than in prison.
You also have your own bathroom and kitchen, which, I hope, given your access to the world of commercial sanitizing products, are corona free. I have none of these spaces. I share a bathroom with 96 other convicts. In my cell I have a narrow, lumpy mattress and a middle school-sized desk that I cram myself into while writing, as I am now as I type this.
Read the story on the Marshal Project
What does it mean to be a lawyer in the age of COVID 19? How can we continue to serve our communities while taking the time to care for ourselves?
You’re not alone. Join us for the virtual community conversation with friends from all over California. Our goal is that by sharing stories of hard-fought insights, we lessen the struggle for all of us and build a network of community care. You’ll leave the session knowing the next steps many lawyers and activists are taking and how to rise to the challenges of this time, feel more relaxed, and be less reactive to the environment and people around us.
March 31 at 12:00 Noon. Register here