#ChangeLawyers She was told she would never go to college. Now she’s a lawyer helping migrants at the border.
When she was a senior in high school in San Diego, Dulce Garcia knew what to do with her life: go to college and get a degree, go to law school and make a million dollars by the time she turned 30.
Garcia went to the school counselor so he would help her pick what university to attend. That's when her world almost crumbled. Almost.
"He told me, 'You're an illegal immigrant: You're not going anywhere, you're not even going to the community college across the street,'" she recalls. "I told him, 'You watch me,' and I stormed out of there. … I had a conversation with my mom later that day. We both started crying. She told me how proud she was of me, but she told me the counselor was right about being undocumented.”
Many things made sense after that for a teenage girl who thought of herself as no different from her peers: Her family never taking her to parks in the Logan Heights neighborhood, giving her tons of homework every day of summer break so she wouldn't go outside and instilling in her a deep mistrust of anyone in a government uniform.
She learned she was brought into the United States illegally from Mexico when she was 4 years old.
"My mom really shielded us from a lot of the heartache happening around us. We would see our neighbors taken away. I would see my mother cry because police had shot somebody's son. … I thought those things were happening because we were poor. Now I realized that it was because we were undocumented," she said.
But Garcia refused to give up, and some things unexpectedly fell into place for her.
She did go to college because California began to allow undocumented immigrants into public universities. She graduated from law school and is a practicing attorney because the Obama administration implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival in 2012. Some 800,000 migrants who were brought into the United States by adults before the age of 16 were admitted into DACA before president Trump shut the program down in 2017. (Those who got in can still renew their status every two years and the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an appeal in November regarding the suspension of DACA.)
Garcia now has a driver's license, a social security number and was admitted to the State Bar of California in 2016. But she has given up at least one of her early dreams: Instead of trying to become a millionaire, she wants to help those who walked in her family's shoes.
As a member of the board of directors of Border Angels, she's focusing on providing legal, educational and community services to unauthorized immigrants already living here and delivering humanitarian aid to migrants coming across the border. The latter enterprise is bringing her face to face with America's deep-seated divisions on illegal immigration and, occasionally, breaking her heart again.
Read the story on KTLA
More of This This lawyer is beating back Trump’s environmental policies…and winning
Drew Caputo was sitting on the couch at his home in the Bay Area watching the election returns on November 8th, 2016. As soon as it became apparent Trump was going to win, Caputo, a senior lawyer with the group Earthjustice, had two immediate thoughts: The first was that a Trump administration would be nothing short of a disaster for the environment, climate, and public health.
The second thought, he says, was: “Time to go to work. Time to go to the mattresses.”
Caputo and his colleagues quickly identified several critical issues that Trump might go after and formed internal teams to prepare for the worst. One potential disaster, he and his colleagues envisioned, was the undoing of the Obama administration’s efforts to protect parts of the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans from oil and gas exploration. Even before Trump was sworn in, lawyers at Earthjustice had started lining up potential plaintiffs and honing their arguments to block a fossil-fuel free-for-all in the fragile ocean waters. “We knew the Trump guys would be an environmental wrecking crew and we wanted to be in a position to respond immediately,” Caputo says.
Sure enough, in April 2017, Trump signed an executive order to throw open the Arctic and parts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans for oil exploration. Within a week, Earthjustice and a coalition of groups including the League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council sued Trump to block the order.
Almost two years later, a federal judge struck down a key section of Trump’s executive order, calling it “unlawful and invalid.” The Obama-era protections would “remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress.”
Caputo was visiting colleagues in Juneau, Alaska, not long afterward when a breaking news story lit up their phones. David Bernhardt, Trump’s new Secretary of the Interior, had told the Wall Street Journal that he was shelving the agency’s plan to expand offshore drilling. The administration had appealed the court’s decision, but Bernhardt said he wouldn’t push ahead on a new drilling plan until the legal fight played out, a process that could take years. “By the time the court rules, that may be discombobulating to our plan,” Bernhardt said.
Caputo and his colleagues traded high-fives. The ocean waters in question were safe from new oil and gas exploration — at least for now. To top it off, the Interior secretary himself had admitted that the litigation brought by Earthjustice and its allies had foiled his plans.
“I said, ‘We’re the discombobulators,’” Caputo says.
THINK BACK to early 2017. One of the biggest fears about a Trump presidency was the damage he would inflict on the environment and the climate. And we were right to be afraid. The administration has unleashed an onslaught of attacks on environmental safeguards — reversing or freezing regulations, making public lands and protected waters available for extraction, and doling out tax breaks and policy tweaks to cronies in the oil, gas, and coal sectors. At a moment when the U.S. needed to take drastic action to combat the global climate crisis, Trump and his industry-loving underlings like EPA chief Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke were poised to take us back in time and risk the future of the planet.
Trump and company have had some notable successes, but two and a half years in, they have failed a lot more than they have succeeded. Waiting for them at every turn has been a network of lawyers who work for the nation’s leading environmental groups. These lawyers have sued the administration at a breathtaking clip. And in the cases that have been decided, they’ve won almost every time. It’s a David-and-Goliath story that doesn’t dominate the headlines or send the Twittersphere into frenzy. But measured in lives saved and planet-wrecking policies thwarted, it’s one of the most consequential stories of the Trump era.
Consider the raw numbers: Since Trump took office, the Natural Resources Defense Council has sued the administration — including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Commerce and Interior and Energy departments, and yes the president himself —more than 90 times. That’s one lawsuit every 10.8 days. Of the 53 cases that have been resolved, NRDC has won 49 of them. That’s a 92 percent win rate.
Read the story on Rolling Stone
Activism of the Week Lawyer walks Emmys red carpet to raise awareness about upcoming LGBTQ case at the Supreme Court
Red carpets are often places to make a political statement, but rarely are they as colorful as the one Laverne Cox brought to the 2019 Emmys. The Orange Is the New Black star wore a ruffled mauve Monsoori gown with a black bodice, and her custom Edie Parker rainbow clutch bore a special message: “Oct. 8, Title VII, Supreme Court.”
To make the political point even clearer, she brought Chase Strangio, a lawyer with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, along as her date. On October 8, Strangio is arguing an antidiscrimination case in front of the court on behalf of a transgender client fired from her job after coming out as trans in 2013. Title VII refers to the part of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination based on sex; the Trump administration is seeking to legalize firing workers based on gender identity or presentation.
“It’s about raising awareness so everyone knows that our lives are in danger,” Cox said to E! on the red carpet. “A lot of people aren’t talking about this case, and it has implications for the LGBT community. But it has implication for women and anyone who doesn’t conform to someone else’s idea of how you should be...a man or woman or neither!”
Read the story on Vanity Fair
Podcast of the Week Protecting trans rights
The Trump administration wants to legalize transgender discrimination in the workplace. This week’s conversation breaks down how we reached this point. From the ways our social system constructs and uses gender, to the law and its limitations, to the political struggles within the LGBTQ community, Chase Strangio discusses many of the complex factors at play in the fight for transgender rights.
A lawyer at the ACLU and a trans man himself, Strangio has been at the epicenter of the extremely high stakes battle for transgender people to receive equality and recognition. Right now, he is part of the legal team preparing to challenge the Trump administration before the Supreme Court, representing a woman fired for being trans.
Listen to the podcast on NBC News
More of This Too Mothers separated from their children are suing Trump
After living without her mother for two months while in immigration custody last year, an eight-year-old girl from Guatemala can barely sleep at night unless her mother holds her tight.
Another Guatemalan girl has recurring nightmares and often screams out for protection from people who might again separate her from her mother. The girl, 6, was taken away from her mother for four months.
The mothers of these girls are among five women who were separated from their children after they crossed the border into the United States to seek asylum and who have now filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration.
Roughly 3,000 migrant children were separated from their parents or legal guardians under President Donald Trump's so-called "zero tolerance policy," according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services obtained by the American Immigration Council.
This is one of the first cases seeking compensatory damages from the government for its intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence, Trina Realmuto, directing attorney at the American Immigration Council, who is representing the mothers in the lawsuit, told NBC News.
Under the "zero tolerance policy," some adults arriving at the Southwest border were charged with a crime, and their children were put in separate holding cells until they could be transferred to long-term custodial care.
"The separations are going to harm them for the rest of their lives," Realmuto said. "This is about putting a human face to both the human cost and the financial cost of implementing these policies, as well as seeking the monetary compensation needed to recover from this trauma.”
One of the mothers suing the Trump administration was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by a psychologist at a detention center in Texas, the lawsuit says, adding that she lives “in a constant state of fear and worry” after her son was sent to an immigration facility in New York while she was still detained at the border.
Read the story on NBC News
Less of This This lawyer fought housing discrimination. Now wealthy suburbanites want to fire his firm.
For much of the past 13 years, attorney Timothy Hollister has battled local elected officials here on behalf of a developer who wants to build more affordable housing in one of America’s wealthiest towns.
The fight, he has said, is a microcosm of a statewide debate in Connecticut, where exclusionary zoning requirements have resulted in some of the most segregated neighborhoods in the nation. Private developers have been allowed to open just 65 affordable housing units in this posh village over the last three decades.
“Does anybody say we need to keep blacks and Hispanics out of Westport? No, but they talk about property values, safety and preserving open space — all the things that a town can do to prevent development that would bring up a more economically and racially diverse housing population,” Hollister told the Connecticut Mirror and ProPublica in May, as part of an investigation into the state’s housing practices. “They don’t use the overt racial terms, but it’s absolutely clear to everybody in the room that’s what they’re talking about.”
Last week, Westport’s leaders struck back.
Citing the attorney’s “inflammatory and insulting” remarks, as well as other actions he had taken on behalf of his client, the town leaders voted to request that the local Board of Education sever its 30-plus-year relationship with Hollister’s firm, Shipman & Goodwin. That contract is worth more than $200,000 annually to the law firm.
“S&G cannot have it both ways,” the town’s two Republican selectmen and their Democratic colleague wrote to the school board, referring to the firm’s work for Summit Development LLC, a developer that is seeking to build a 187-unit apartment complex a half-mile from the local train station. Fifty-seven of those units would be reserved for low-income residents. Town officials said the firm’s “dual representation” constitutes a conflict of interest.
Attorneys at the firm declined to comment for this article.
Westport is the second Connecticut town this year seeking to pressure Shipman & Goodwin to abandon its affordable housing work — or risk losing the local school system as a client. In January, after Newtown’s first selectman claimed the law practice had a conflict there, Hollister and another developer parted ways. Leaders from both towns say it’s a matter of economics: firms that reap public dollars should not harm those same local governments with costly lawsuits.
But with Shipman & Goodwin representing two-thirds of the school districts in Connecticut — including those located in the state’s nine wealthiest municipalities, which also have limited affordable housing — civil rights and housing advocates worry the moves represent an emerging strategy to freeze affordable housing.
“What does it say to people who are trying to build in communities like Westport who are very well resourced? I think this says that we will go so far as to deprive you of your lawyers, the best lawyers,” said Peter Haberlandt, senior legal counsel for the civil rights organization Open Communities Alliance and former legal affairs director for the state Education Department.
“It looks like an effort to prevent affordable housing from coming into town,” Haberlandt added. “Let’s not be fooled: This action was not about one specific development. This looks like an effort to thwart affordable housing more generally.”
Read the story on ProPublica
Want to be a law clerk? Attend this webinar.
Do you ever wonder if you could clerk for a judge or maybe become a judge someday? Are you concerned that you do not have the right qualifications? Join us for a rare webinar on the unique barriers that law students of color might experience when considering clerking and how to overcome them. Our panelists will help demystify the clerkship process, provide concrete tips and resources, and discuss the important role that clerkships can play in building a diverse and more progressive federal judiciary.
Hosted by ChangeLawyers℠, ACS, and Equal Justice Society.
October 8. Register here >
Diversity & Inclusion Networking Event
Our panel of leaders within their respective organizations will explain and share examples of how they became bias interrupters by making small tweaks to basic business systems (hiring, performance evaluations, assignments, promotions and compensation) that interrupt and correct explicit and implicit bias in the workplace. Instead of approaching diversity initiatives as large-scale culture changes, bias interrupters identify and change the constant flow of bias in basic business systems. Bias interrupters work because they change systems, instead of people.
Hosted by Duane Morris, and featuring ChangeLawyers℠ ED Chris Punongbayan
October 8. Register here >