Watch This Every victim should be heard
Markisha Roches is a law student at Southwestern Law School and a 2019 ChangeLawyers℠ Scholar.
More of This Foundations have a duty to defend migrants at the border
Bianca Sierra Wolff is Deputy Director at ChangeLawyers℠. Last month, she traveled to Tijuana to visit migrant shelters as part of Hispanics in Philanthropy's Border Summit.
Weeks after my visit to the border, I still struggle to share what I saw. I am the daughter of Mexican immigrants, and I couldn't help but think: that could have been us. My children are just one generation removed from one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
And yet, I must speak up precisely because I am in a position to privilege and power. I am an American citizen; a lawyer; and a philanthropist. I believe that I must use every lever of power at my disposal to say this: the border crisis is so much worse than any of us can imagine.
When a migrants seeking asylum arrive at the border, they are given a small scrap of paper with a number. And then they wait for days, weeks, and months for their number to be called. If they lose this scrap of paper, they lose their place in line. And for many refugees - women, children, transgender and queer people - losing their place in line is a death sentence.
But it gets worse. Beginning in 2019, the Trump Administration has required all those seeking refuge to "Remain in Mexico" until their number is called.
Think about that for a minute - single mothers with children, unaccompanied toddlers, Queer and Trans migrants - are now left to wait months on in places that are just as dangerous as Afghanistan. It's no wonder that 60% of migrant women are raped and many are arrive at the border already pregnant.
I met Yara at Jardi de Mariposas, one of the few shelters that specializes in helping Queer migrants. Like many translatinas, Yara fled Guatemala after experiencing sexual violence, including repeated sexual abuse by family members. On her way through Mexico, she was repeatedly beaten and abused. She finally made it to the border, but because of the "Remain in Mexico" policy, she had no choice but to become a sex worker and eventually became addicted to drugs.
Yara wants to be whole again. And yet our own governments' policies have forced her - a victim of sexual abuse - to experience her trauma over and over again.
Jorge showed me his tiny slip of paper. If his story weren't so tragic, it might be funny that a miniscule strip of paper will determine the rest of his life.
Back in Cuba, Jorge was a was a civil engineer. In order to make it to the border, he, his wife, and their two small children had to travel through 9 different countries. At one point their group became stuck in the jungle, where 50 people lost their lives. When they finally arrived in Mexico, the family was detained. They were beaten. Jorge's head was split open. I'll never forget the tremble in his voice when he spoke of his trauma; the fear that comes with being unable to defend your child.
Someone asked Jorge what kept him going. "Mis ninos", he said. "I had to stay alive to keep them alive.”
Foundations have a lot of power beyond our pursestrings. We have a voice, connections, and reputations. Yara and Jorge deserve to be treated with humanity, and when our government does not, it is our moral obligation use every single one of our levers of power. Philantrhopy must fund, sure. But we must also ourselves also speak up and stand up in every way we can.
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Speaking Of… New DOJ memo means more children in immigration court will not have a lawyer
Ilyce Shugall is the director of the Immigrant Legal Defense Program at the Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Assn. of San Francisco.
The Justice Department recently issued a policy memo that would limit the access of noncitizens to legal assistance in immigration courts, the latest in a series of attacks on immigrants. As it is, people appearing in immigration court do not have a right to government-appointed counsel. Instead, they have to hire and pay for a private lawyer themselves or be fortunate enough to find a pro bono lawyer.
Because of the huge volume of cases in immigration court, there are simply not enough pro bono lawyers to represent the thousands of adults and children in removal proceedings. To fill this gap, nonprofits like the Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Assn. of San Francisco, where I work, provide limited-scope legal services by appearing as “friend of the court,” or amicus curiae, in immigration court. In this role, these volunteers provide free legal information, help noncitizens identify what immigration benefits they may be eligible for, assist in filling out and filing immigration forms and other papers, and help them speak to the judge in open court.
Such assistance is crucial for vulnerable individuals, including unaccompanied children, trafficking and other crime victims and individuals who have serious mental health disabilities. These individuals, who have often gone through severe trauma, are entirely unable to navigate the complex immigration system alone. By helping them, even in a limited capacity, the friends of the court also help the courts in processing cases. This work is more important now than ever with immigration judges handling more cases in less time under the administration’s new performance quotas.
The new memo, issued by the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, would redefine the role of friends of the court and prohibit anyone in that role from speaking on behalf of unrepresented individuals in open court.
The memo purports to be protecting immigrants from confusion and clarifying that friends of the court cannot play an advocacy role in immigration court. But the new directive was not created to protect immigrants. Volunteers with nonprofit organizations that do this work are already well trained to explain their limited role so that there is no blurring of lines between full-scope legal representation and help from a friend of the court.
The implementation of the memo will harm thousands of unrepresented noncitizens who face deportation every day. It will limit their access to information and assistance. And it will prevent them from having volunteers speak for them in court. Without this option, many won’t be able to ask the court important questions about their cases, articulate their requests, and present claims for immigration relief.
Read the story on LA Times
Less of This California is letting out prisoners early, but the housing crisis is keeping them from starting over
After 15 long years behind bars, Terah Lawyer needed to show the parole board she had somewhere lined up to live. She landed a spot in a facility on Treasure Island and was so grateful to be out that at first she didn’t mind being forced to spend dozens of hours a week in treatment classes for a substance abuse problem she didn’t have, and in fact, as a drug and alcohol counselor, was certified to teach about. But quickly, the program’s strict schedule and tough restrictions, like lockdowns on holidays and limited free time, got in the way of adjusting to real life. Before she left prison, she’d worked hard to secure a job with the California Coalition of Women Prisoners, but her facility’s rules forced her to delay her start date three months, and she lost the opportunity. Most painfully, the program’s structure made it hard to visit with her parents, who lived a couple hours north in Sacramento.
“The whole process of transitioning was hindered and stalled,” Lawyer says. “It handicapped me in certain areas because I didn’t have that immediate exposure I needed to see what life was like out here.”
Once she was finally able to start working, she’d leave the house at 7 a.m., work a full day, and get back in time for the hour-and-a-half class at night. “I was required to still bring in 21 hours of treatment classes in order for me to get my weekend passes to go home, to go shopping, to go out with family or friends, to do things that are considered freedom,” she explains. “It was really difficult being able to hold down a full-time job, which is thankfully now giving me an income, and also meet the program’s requirements of classes that I didn’t even need in the first place.”
Lawyer’s experience—and her stunted post-prison transition—is far from unique. For the thousands of people each year trying to put their incarceration behind them, stable transitional housing can be critical to their success, but in many cases the current system gets in the way. Social and structural barriers, from NIMBYism to rental and employment discrimination against felons, have long made finding housing incredibly difficult for formerly incarcerated people—in fact, they’re 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general population. There are simply few good options, particularly for people leaving prison after long sentences and facing a radically changed world. Like Lawyer, they may get stuck in a program for substance treatment even when they have no history of drug or alcohol abuse, or they can end up in places that look and feel like the prisons they just left.
While this is an issue across the country, over the past decade California has become something like ground zero for the problem, with its affordable housing crunch and a slate of laws reforming tough-on-crime policies that have offered release for thousands of people. While the state has taken steps to mitigate the problem in recent years, reentry housing is still a huge crisis that shows few signs of abating. In the end, many people who most need support when they’re let out will fall through the cracks.
Read the story on Mother Jones
Less of This Too The great rollback of transgender rights
Nicolas Talbott, a graduate student at Kent State University in Ohio who is transgender, was told in May that because of President Trump’s transgender ban in the military, he would no longer be eligible for placement as an Army officer. He could continue participating in the Reserve Officers Training Corps program, but the benefits that he joined for — health insurance and student loan forgiveness — were no longer available to him.
“Everyone else would walk away with a job in the United States Army, and I would walk away with just more student loan debt,” Mr. Talbott said.
Mr. Talbott’s experience is just one version of a broader story unfolding across vast portions of the federal government as the Trump administration has rolled back a wide array of protections for transgender people, many of them put in place during the Obama administration. The Obama White House used its powers to declare that legal and legislative efforts to defend against sex discrimination should apply to gender identity. The Trump White House called that executive overreach — and reversed course wherever it could.
Across the country, transgender people and groups that are advocates for them have wrestled with the effect of that shift as they have learned of policy changes from the departments of Education and Labor to the departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development, from the Pentagon to the Justice Department to the Office of Personnel Management.
Last month, a United States district judge struck down a Health and Human Services Department rule that would, among other changes, expand the protections for health care workers who refuse to treat transgender patients if it clashed with their beliefs, the third judge to do so.
But so many similar regulations are in place or pending that advocates for transgender rights are hardly relieved.
“We’ve been a priority for this administration since the day they got in the door,” said Gillian Branstetter, a former spokeswoman for the National Center for Transgender Equality, who is transgender.
Read the story on NY Times
Interview of the Week Lawyer-turned-photographer documents the progressive movement
It’s not hard to find photos from the inaugural Women’s March of 2017, a veritable sea of pink hats and people holding up signs clad with clever political puns. It was a triumphant moment for a group of people who felt oppressed, frightened or angered by the arrival of President Donald Trump at the White House. What often remains unseen are the smaller protests, the ones that aren’t getting covered by the mainstream media — statements on cardboard and loudspeakers held up by the few but passionate.
Cindy Trinh is a first generation Vietnamese American who grew up in California, first becoming a lawyer and then a photographer, visual journalist and podcast host. Passionate about social justice and human rights, her work sheds light on the work of activists and protesters in New York City as well as immigrant communities around the world. She aims to accurately represent their efforts and show the positive outcomes of people exercising their rights to freedom of speech and protest.
We got the chance to chat with Trinh about her documentary project highlighting the activism and social justice movements in New York called Activist NYC, who and what is currently inspiring her, and her hopes for 2020.
What was your original inspiration and vision for Activist NYC?
I really dislike how media portrays activists and protesters in the streets. I think that because of the media there is a negative bias towards activists. I want to show activists in a positive light and show the work that they do that the mainstream media often ignores. I cover protests large and small from a variety of causes and issues that affect New York and the country as a whole. My goal is to highlight the diversity of the people who come out to protest in the streets and show the emotion and passion of the people.
I think it is important to document these protests and actions because this is our history, for people to be able to look back on this time and remember what we fought for. I want my photography to leave a lasting impact on people and hopefully broaden and/or change their perspectives.
What has been your most "pinch me" moment so far? Your toughest moment?
In my years of doing Activist NYC, I’ve struggled a lot with dealing with other photographers at the scene, normally aggressive male press photographers who push and shove me because I am an Asian American woman. There are often times when I feel defeated because it is so hard for me to make my work known, and I never think I am going to succeed. But I know I have to keep fighting and pushing myself and continue to do the work I care about.
What personal accomplishment are you most proud of from 2019 so far?
This year I had a great successful year, so I feel pretty good about that! I had five exhibitions, showing my documentary photography about Chinatowns around the world, my travel photography from Vietnam, an art and performance collaboration with an immigrant artists group, and my activism photography for several pop-up shows. I am currently showing two photos at the Museum of the City of New York. I still have so much more I want to accomplish, and I want to keep putting my best work out in the world. I hope for more successes in the upcoming year.
What is the most important cause to you right now that you believe more people should be informed on?
There are a lot of causes that I care about and that are important, but right now I believe climate change is of the utmost urgency. If our planet is dying, then nothing else matters. We are in a climate crisis and our future is looking grim. I am so impressed by the youth-led movement that we have seen take action to demand solutions to the climate crisis. The fact that so many people still believe climate change is a hoax, or the many others who are apathetic to the issue because they do not yet feel the immediate consequences of climate change, shows that we need to focus on education. Keeping people more informed about the consequences of climate change and joining the fight against big corporations to stop polluting the environment is essential.
Read the story on The Hill
2020 MTO Fellowship Now Open
Applications are now open for the 2020 MTO Fellows Program. This program it is an amazing opportunity for prospective law students to learn more about the law school application process, get tips for law school and beyond, meet lawyers across a variety of practice areas, and participate in a free LSAT course. The program is intended for individuals seeking to start law school in fall 2021 (college juniors or seniors as of spring 2020, or individuals who have already graduated).
Apply here, by January 6, 2020 by 12:00 p.m. PST.
Job Opportunity at CHIRLA
The Removal Defense Staff Attorney will provide affirmative immigration relief services, provide representation of clients in removal proceedings and pursue community-based systemic reform and advocacy aimed at reforming unforgiving federal immigration laws.
Apply here >
Decolonize Yourself and Your Workplace
Featuring ChangeLawyers℠ ED, Chris Punongbayan, and ChangeLawyers℠ Chief Content Director, Carlos Aguilar.
Have you ever been a room full of people who don’t look like you? Do you code switch at work because you know you can’t be real in certain environments? You’re not alone. This is a two-part fireside chat that will dig into some hard truths about the challenges we face when we try to liberate philanthropy.
Co-hosted by ChangeLawyers & Northern California Grantmakers
Liberate Yourself, January 14, 2020. Register here >
Liberate Foundation, February 4, 2020. Register here >
Law School Admissions Conference at Berkeley Law
This event will provide attendees with a comprehensive overview of the law school application process. Current law students and administrators will provide advice on how best to navigate the law school application process. Continental breakfast and lunch will be provided.
February 1, 2020. Register here >
Job Opportunity at Legal Services for Children
LSC seeks an bilingual attorney to represent children in immigration proceedings. Clients will be living in the community in the Bay Area. Clients are primarily monolingual Spanish speakers. We welcome applicants at all levels and provide opportunities for training and leadership.
Apply here >
Diversity Summit 2020
85% of lawyers are white. Why isn't the legal profession more diverse yet? Presented by ChangeLawyers, BASF, and Berkeley Law's California Constitution Center. Featuring ChangeLawyers℠ ED Chris Punongbayan. 4 Hours of MCLE credit.
January 21, 2020. Register here >