Our Grants For 2016

The Board met during September 2015 to discuss grant applications. As a result of that discussion, the Board made the following grants to six worthy organizations.

Click on each Grantee’s name below to read about their organization and the case for which they received funding, and to view their six-month report, year-end report, and case update.

Center for Gender and Refugee Studies

The mission of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) is to protect the fundamental human rights of refugees and immigrants with a focus on women, children, and LGBT individuals. In 1999, following her groundbreaking legal victory in Matter of Kasinga, CGRS Director and Professor Karen Musalo founded CGRS to meet the needs of asylum seekers fleeing gender-based violence. Fauziya Kassindja, a young woman from Togo, fled to the United States to escape female genital cutting and a forced polygamous marriage to a much older man. Building on the momentum from the Kasinga decision—the first precedent decision to recognize gender-based persecution as deserving of asylum—CGRS strategically combined the use of impact litigation with media attention, national grassroots advocacy, and technical assistance and training for attorneys to successfully expand protections available to refugee women.

In keeping with the overarching goal to extend refugee protections to de-valued and under-recognized groups, our mission soon grew to embrace advocacy for the rights of child refugees and LGBT asylum seekers. CGRS is now an established nationwide leader on asylum issues affecting women, children, and LGBT individuals. In the past year alone, we provided expert consultation, mentoring, and litigation resources in over 1,700 cases. Our goals include achieving grants of protection in individual cases and developing refugee law in a manner that ensures recognition of gender-based and children’s claims, consistent with international norms.

THE CASE: Recently CGRS, working in coordination with other advocacy groups and private counsel, secured a huge victory in the landmark decision Matter of A-R-C-G-. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in A-R-C-G- formally recognized for the first time that domestic violence can serve as the basis for asylum. CGRS laid the groundwork for A-R-C-G- not only directly through an influential amicus brief filed with the BIA, but also through years of painstaking work in every pivotal gender-based asylum case considered by the BIA, from Kasinga onward, and in countless individual cases.

As part of an overall strategy to build upon the landmark A-R-C-G- ruling, we will litigate a domestic violence case, which we refer to herein as Matter of A-, pending before the Eloy Immigration Court in Arizona. We believe that this individual case in one of the nation’s most hostile immigration courts will make a meaningful difference for detained women who seek protection from domestic violence. Our involvement will also contribute toward positive precedent and an expansive application of A-R-C-G- in the immigration courts.

The Eloy Immigration Court hears the cases of women refugees who are detained at the nearby Eloy Detention Center. We will seek to ensure that immigration judges and government attorneys engage in fair and correct application of A-R-C-G- within the Eloy jurisdiction, where judges have among the highest denial rates in the nation.

Together, the four Eloy immigration judges average over 94% denials in asylum cases, notwithstanding a nationwide denial rate of only ~50% in asylum cases. Both the University of Arizona and a local legal services provider, the Florence Project, have alerted us that the high denial rates apply also to women raising domestic violence claims, even following A-R-C-G-. Both groups have requested that we mentor and assist attorneys representing women in detention at Eloy.

With the support of this request, we plan to co-counsel in Matter of A-, a case currently pending before an Eloy immigration judge, who has a denial rate of 94% (among the highest in the nation), and to develop through that case model pleadings and a legal strategy that can be used in other Eloy cases. CGRS will also aim to represent women before each of the three other Eloy immigration judges, who likewise decide cases of detained women and who also have extremely high 94+% denial rates.

Previously, CGRS was instrumental in ensuring proper treatment of domestic violence asylum claims for women and children detained at Artesia, New Mexico prior to the closing of that family detention facility. CGRS co-counseled the first two immigration court cases of women detainees raising domestic violence claims at Artesia, and wrote an amicus brief for the third woman’s case. Intervening in this focused way at an early stage strongly influenced the outcome of later gender cases. Advocates won the vast majority of merits hearings out of Artesia before its closure: a total of 15 asylum grants by immigration judges.

Children's Rights

Children’s Rights is a national advocacy group working to reform failing child welfare systems on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of abused and neglected children who depend on them for protection and care. Since 1995, we have been fighting to enshrine in the law of the land every child’s right to be protected from abuse and neglect and to grow up in a safe, stable, permanent home. Through tough legal action complemented by substantive policy expertise, we have won landmark victories and brought about sweeping improvements in the lives of abused and neglected children in more than a dozen states.

In the states where Children’s Rights is active, fewer children who have already been victimized by abuse and neglect at home suffer further maltreatment in foster care. More children receive the high-quality medical, educational, and other services they need to recover from the trauma they have suffered and regain the healthy childhood that is their right. And more children go home sooner to better lives and to safe, stable, permanent families.

THE CASE: In February 2015, Children’s Rights and the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest filed a class action lawsuit, B.K. v. McKay,against the state of Arizona on behalf of the over 17,000 children in the custody of its Department of Child Safety (DCS). Perkins Coie LLP joined the case as co-counsel in April. The suit charges DCS and the Department of Health Services (DHS) with violating the plaintiff children’s constitutional and federal statutory rights by failing to: (i) maintain an adequate number and array of licensed family foster homes, (ii) provide needed health care services, (iii) preserve family ties once children are in foster care, and (iv) conduct timely investigations into reports that children have been maltreated while in state care. Children’s Rights’ case is vital and time-sensitive for these children, who are dependent on a dangerous, dysfunctional system for their protection, care, and well-being.

Contact: Sandy Santana, Executive Director, 330 7th Avenue 4th Floor, New York NY 10001, (212) 683-2210.

National Center for Law and Economic Justice

NCLEJ was founded in 1965, in the heyday of the civil rights movement. From the very start, NCLEJ joined with southern civil rights lawyers in landmark cases, worked with community-based organizations around the country, won ground breaking victories in the courts and committed resources to bring about legislative reform. Through these early successes, NCLEJ demonstrated that the law can be a powerful instrument for improving the lives of the most disadvantaged members of our society.

For the past 50 years, NCLEJ has led the way in promoting economic justice, fairness and opportunity for those in need; securing systemic reform in the delivery of income support and related human services; and safeguarding important legal and constitutional rights. Our mission today continues to be to advance the cause of economic justice for individuals, families, and communities through litigation, policy advocacy, and support for grass roots organizing.

THE CASE: In the ground-breaking litigation to enforce the preliminary injunction requiring Connecticut to timely provide food stamps to eligible households, NCLEJ will work with local colleagues and advocate to (1) enforce the injunction which requires the State to timely process applications for food stamps and (2) prepare for trial on the merits. Here, we and our colleagues won a first of its kind victory at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals setting forth that the provisions of the Food Stamp Act under which we sued were federally enforceable by applicants.

During the grant period, we plan to use a variety of tools to compel timely processing of applications. We will leverage the experience acquired in comparable work in other states to achieve improvements in agency practices and to institute oversight that will serve both as a management tool and as a means of measuring progress. We expect considerable resistance as Connecticut has fought hard at every step of the case.

Contact: Marc Cohan, cohan@nclej.org

Native American Rights Fund

Over the past 45 years, NARF has represented over 275 Tribes in 31 states in such areas as tribal jurisdiction, federal recognition, land claims, hunting and fishing rights, religious liberties, and, more recently, voting rights. NARF has achieved a number of landmark accomplishments for Native Americans that include:

THE CASE: Recently, NARF has litigated two successful cases against the State of Alaska for failing to comply with the language requirements of the VRA.. In the more recent case, the court ordered the translation of all pre-election materials and the posting of translators at all polling places. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated an entire VRA section in Shelby County v. Holder. As a result several states, such as republican controlled North Dakota, have passed more stringent voter ID rules that disproportionately affect minority communities, including Native Americans. Due to reasons rooted in the discriminatory treatment of Native Americans, many living on Indian reservations in North Dakota do not have a qualifying ID, such as a driver's license or state ID card that has a residential address on it. Thus, in both the primary and general election in 2014, many qualified North Dakota Native voters were disenfranchised because they only had a tribal ID with no residential address listed.

There will be several claims raised in the litigation for which NARF received a grant from the Foundation. Two state constitutional claims, two federal constitutional claims, and three Voting Rights Act claims. All of the claims surround the new requirements that a voter possess one of only four forms of ID in order to vote. The new voting requirement of ownership of one of four forms of qualifying ID limits the right to vote arbitrarily and unnecessarily, and disproportionately burdens Native American voters in North Dakota. The burdens are substantial for a number of people that cannot afford to drive to the nearest driver’s license site (“DMV”), which for Native Americans can be over 60 miles away. Many Native Americans live below the poverty line and the expense to travel to the DMV is too high and not worth the benefit of being able to vote. When weighed against the states interests in protecting voter fraud, which was non-existent in North Dakota, the burden on Native voters should lead to the new Voter ID requirement being overturned.

Contact: Morgan O/Brien, Director of Development, 1506 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80302 
Contact: Ray Ramirez, Corporate Secretary, 1506 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80302

North Carolina Justice Center

The North Carolina Justice Center is the leading advocacy and research organization in the state focused on a wide range of issues that impact low- and moderate-income North Carolinians. The organization was founded in 1996 through the merger of two former Legal Services organizations. Our mission is to eliminate poverty in North Carolina by ensuring that every household in the state has access to the resources, services and fair treatment it needs to achieve economic security. To that end, we work toward the following goals: consumer protections from abusive practices; safe and affordable housing; excellent public education for every child; access to quality and affordable health care; fair treatment for everyone in North Carolina, including immigrants and refugees; jobs that are safe, pay a living wage, and provide benefits; public investments that expand opportunities for economic security; and a fair and stable revenue system that adequately funds public investments while fairly distributing tax responsibility.

The Workers’ Rights Project, one of the Justice Center’s seven projects, strives to enforce and expand policies that ensure safe workplaces, fair treatment, a living wage, and a strong safety net in times of hardship on behalf of all workers in North Carolina. Much of the Workers’ Rights Project’s litigation has focused on the rights of farmworkers and other migrant workers.

THE CASE: We are preparing to file a class action case on behalf of a group of H-2A workers from Mexico who worked for an H-2A labor contractor in Florida and eastern North Carolina. The H-2A visa program allows employers who are granted permission by the U.S. Department of Labor to import foreign workers to fill temporary agricultural jobs. North Carolina agricultural growers have been the leading user of the H-2A program – bringing in more than 10,000 visa workers each year. Over the last few years we have observed a growing number of labor contractors, as opposed to growers, bringing H-2A workers to the state because growers see hiring workers through an H-2A labor contractor as a way to save money and insulate themselves from liability. The problems that H-2A workers have historically faced—wage theft, poor housing conditions, not being reimbursed for their visa and transportation costs, exposure to pesticides and illegal deductions from their pay—are exacerbated for employees of labor contractors as labor contractors are more unsophisticated and undercapitalized. Our complaint alleges violations of the H-2A contract, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act and Florida’s minimum wage law. Our goal through this class action and subsequent litigation we hope to undertake against H-2A labor contractors is to stop the trend towards using H-2A labor contractors by holding both growers and contractors jointly liable to workers when there is a violation.

Contact: Carlene McNulty, Litigation Director, North Carolina Justice Center, 224 S. Dawson Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

Texas Fair Defense Project

Incorporated in 2006, the Texas Fair Defense Project works to improve the fairness of Texas’s criminal courts and ensure that all Texans have access to justice. TFDP aims to improve the public defense system and challenge policies that create modern-day debtors’ prisons filled with poor people who cannot afford to pay fines and costs related to their criminal case or commercial bond fees.

THE CASE: TFDP along with the Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law and the private law firm Susman Godfrey are filing a class complaint against a Texas jurisdiction seeking injunctive relief for all people at risk of being jailed as a result of the unconstitutional practices of the jurisdiction, in violation of long-standing U.S. Supreme Court precedent holding that an individual cannot be jailed for the inability to pay a fine.

Contact: Rebecca Bernhardt, Executive Director, 510 S. Congress Ave., Suite 208, Austin, TX 78704

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