A Little Inspiration Public service helps people who look like me
Donovan Hicks is a student at Stanford Law and a ChangeLawyers℠ Scholar.
Next Tuesday Conversation with lawyers from Netflix’s Innocence Files
Recently featured in the new Netflix series, the Innocence Files, Franky Carrillo was exonerated with the help of a team of lawyers, judges, and activists. Join ChangeLawyers for a virtual fireside chat with Frankie Carrillo, Judge Paul Bacigalupo, Juan Mejia from the District Attorney's Office, and Paige Kaneb from the Northern California Innocence Project.
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Watch This The undocumented activists who infiltrated ICE
In 2012, two undocumented youths deployed one of the riskiest and most counterintuitive tactics in recent social movement history: They intentionally got themselves arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Although they were in danger of deportation themselves, Marco Saavedra and Viridiana Martinez—supported by a grassroots group called the National Immigrant Youth Alliance—were able to get themselves placed in the government’s Broward Transitional Center in Florida, where they quickly began working to organize the detainees.
At a time when the Obama administration claimed that it was not deporting individuals without criminal records, the activist “infiltrators” proved that this was a lie. Once in the Broward facility, Saavedra and Martinez gathered information and started to publicize the cases of those who were being processed for removal from the country. Despite the White House’s stated intentions, these cases included people pulled from their families and livelihoods because of minor traffic infractions, individuals arrested for driving with an expired license, and women detained when reporting domestic violence to the authorities. These people were held, sometimes for years, without trial or due process. Yet the National Immigrant Youth Alliance showed that by shining a light on the system’s abuses, it could sometimes stop deportations and secure the release of detainees.
A new film by directors Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera explores this audacious campaign. In telling the story of an action they have likened to a “prison break in reverse,” the filmmakers make use of an innovative blend of film genres, combining original interviews, documentary footage of the group’s organizing, scripted reenactment, and elements of a heist thriller. Having won the Audience Award at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, The Infiltrators is now going into general release. Although its theatrical rollout was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, it will be available starting May 1 via Virtual Cinemas, showing in partnership with local theaters around the country.
Read the story on The Nation
More of This We need to rewrite the constitution to stop voter suppression
K. Sabeel Rahman is an associate professor at Brooklyn Law School.
On April 7, Wisconsin held a statewide election for party primaries and a critical state Supreme Court seat—in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, decisions by Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court, and state legislators effectively blocked vote-by-mail procedures that could have assured more ballots were cast safely. A week later, the Kentucky Legislature overrode the governor’s veto to further tighten voter ID requirements even while DMV offices remain closed, making it even harder for many voters to cast their ballots.
These developments, which endanger voters’ health in addition to their civil rights, are just a more baldfaced iteration of ongoing attacks on the fundamental institutions of democracy. Before the pandemic, Wisconsin officials had already purged more than 200,000 voters from the rolls, disproportionately affecting black and brown voters in a crucial November swing state. In Georgia, now-Gov. Brian Kemp faces a lawsuit over his infamous voter suppression campaign, which in 2018 undermined voter access especially in communities of color through a range of tactics from voter purges to faulty election machines, likely leading to Kemp’s narrow victory over Stacey Abrams. These battles are becoming especially fraught as Republican lawmakers and strategists double down on a strategy of democracy-rigging as their main pathway to maintaining political power.
Even efforts to expand the franchise are fraught. In 2018, Florida voters approved a landmark state constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to more than 1 million formerly incarcerated people; within months, the state Legislature passed a bill requiring these new voters to pay off their legal fines and fees before registering—a move that could cut the number of new voters in half. Congress has passed a landmark democracy reform bill, H.R. 1, that covers everything from voting rights to redistricting reform to public financing of elections and more. But there are already concerns about what this Supreme Court will do—especially after years of systematically undercutting democratic processes with rulings that gutted campaign finance regulations and the Voting Rights Act. And the Republican Party’s newfound opposition to expanding vote by mail to allow people to vote safely in the pandemic makes the thinking clear: the fewer votes overall, the better for the GOP.
The hard truth is that despite our proclamations of American commitments to democracy, we have a constitutional system that from its founding has been premised on a deeply undemocratic, restrictive view of who counts and who should have political power. This reality is not just evident in the constitutional sanction for slavery but in the systematic concentration of political power through mechanisms like the Electoral College. What’s more, the history of American democracy has consistently been shaped by a push to maintain political power in the hands of a white elite, resisting efforts to enfranchise and empower black and brown communities. Today’s felony disenfranchisement laws and limits on the right to vote, for example, have their roots in the backlash against the post–Civil War efforts to emancipate and empower black Americans. That backlash led to the rise of Jim Crow and the persistence of systematic voter suppression today.
But we have a history of radical, democratizing transformation as well. In that moment after the end of the Civil War, we remade the Constitution. For a brief moment, America sought to create a democracy freed of the vestiges of slavery and committed to a fuller realization of the ideal of democratic inclusion. The vision of Reconstruction—and the backlash against it—is instructive for us today. Now, as then, the fight over voting rights is really a proxy battle over political power and fundamental questions of race and membership in the polity. Now, as then, we need to think about democracy reform at its most transformational level: amending the Constitution, radically remaking our political institutions to emphasize equality and inclusion, taking head-on the racialized opposition to voting rights expansion.
Read the story on Slate
Less of This How America’s deportation machine went after a Queer, Black immigrant
Alina Das is a professor at New York University School of Law and author of No Justice in the Shadows: How America Criminalizes Immigrants.
At 20 years old, Michael had the look and build of a much younger person. Across the back room of a dusty Harlem police precinct in 2010, I could see defiance and fear in his eyes. I suspected that he did not yet understand the stakes. Deportation was the last thing on his mind.
A few hours earlier, a detective had called Michael, summoning him to the precinct to answer a few questions. My students and I had been representing Michael for a few months, so we went with him. The staff had us wait in a side room, where we learned that Michael’s ex-boyfriend had accused him of stealing his cellphone.
As the detective deliberated over whether to arrest him, Michael’s anger bubbled over. “It’s not true,” he said, his voice rising. Michael had paid for the cellphone, and when he and his boyfriend broke up, he had taken it back. Michael began furiously texting his ex.
“You shouldn’t contact him until we sort this out,” I whispered. I wondered whether Michael’s ex realized what he had set in motion by calling the police.
Michael already had a criminal record comprising a handful of minor charges. Shoplifting, for when he and a friend were found with two hats in a department store. Fare evasion, for when he got pulled out of the subway for using a student-rate MetroCard even though he was not in school. Petty crimes had led to two misdemeanor convictions.
Given everything Michael had gone through in his young life, I was surprised his record wasn’t more serious. Thrown out of his home as a teenager after his mom found out he was gay, Michael joined the roughly 1,600 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender kids who live on the streets of New York City. Homeless LGBT youth are vulnerable to violence, hunger, and drug addiction. Six out of 10 consider or attempt suicide. With social workers, shelter space, and other interventions in short supply, homeless LGBT youth in New York City are much more likely to come into contact with police than with any other government agency.
Michael’s misdemeanors were clearly acts of survival. But rather than getting help, he got a criminal record. So far he had managed to avoid jail time, getting community service or a small fine for his offenses. But this time was different. Stealing a cellphone could be charged as grand larceny—a felony punishable by up to four years in jail. If the police pursued the charges, they would hold Michael at the precinct overnight, and a judge would decide whether or not to set bail in his case the next day. If the judge set bail, Michael would need someone to post it right away. Lacking family to post bail, he would likely be sent directly to Rikers Island, New York City’s most notorious jail.
Read the story on The Nation
May 7 at Noon
Featuring Arati Vasan (she/her), Senior Managing Attorney at Family Violence Appellate Project and Christian Abasto, Director of Legal Advocacy Unit at Disability Rights California
May 7 at 12:00 Noon. Register here
May 14 at Noon
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a harsh reminder of our financial fragility. During times of uncertainty, it becomes especially crucial to focus on what’s within our control. In this free webinar, we will walk you through four steps of navigating this and any financial crisis.
May 14 at 12:00 Noon. Register here
May 21 at Noon
70% of the general population struggles with Imposter Syndrome, the feeling that one is not cut out for the work one is doing or aspires to do, combined with a fear of being discovered as a fraud.
May 21 at 12:00 Noon. Register here
We're looking a fellow to work at the DAs office
With support from California ChangeLawyers℠, For the People seeks to hire a passionate and drive law student to serve as a summer legal fellow. The Legal fellow will work with For the People and the Contra Costa DAs Office on implementing the Sentence Review Project.
We're looking a criminal justice fellow
With support from California ChangeLawyers℠, UnCommon Law seeks to hire a full-time, year-long legal Fellow to support the work of our New Pilot Program. The Fellow will be a part of a team of advocates, counselors and attorneys supporting Pilot program participants in navigating the discretionary parole process, including supporting those participants in developing new self-narratives to heal from past trauma.
We're looking a civil rights fellow
With support from California ChangeLawyers®, Council on American-Islamic Relations (SF-Bay Area) seeks to hire a full-time, post-Bar Legal Fellow to support the work of our civil rights and immigration programs, and increase the projects capacity to build a removal defense docket, provide naturalization services in the American Muslim community, and support first-time callers seeking civil rights and immigration legal assistance.