Our Grants For 2017

The Board met during September 2016 to discuss grant applications. As a result of that discussion, the Board made the following grants to five 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.

American Immigration Council

Established in 1987, the American Immigration Council is a non-profit organization established to increase public understanding of immigration law and policy, advocate for the fair and just administration of our immigration laws, protect the legal rights of noncitizens, and educate the public about the enduring contributions of America's immigrants.

The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) is a non-profit organization established in 1980 to protect, defend, and expand the rights of immigrants in the United States. Marking its 45th anniversary year in 2016, NIPNLG works to promote fairness, dignity, and equality for all immigrants under the law.

The Immigration Council and NIPNLG litigate targeted issues in immigration cases likely to have significant impact. Past collaborations between the Council and NIPNLG, together with our allies, have resulted in the following litigation accomplishments:

THE CASE: Under the law, an asylum-seeker must apply for asylum within one year of arrival in the United States. Failure to apply on time generally results in losing the opportunity to seek asylum, with the resulting risk of erroneous deportation to the country from which the person fled. However, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents do not provide notice of the one-year filing deadline to individuals who, upon apprehension, express a fear of persecution. Too many individuals miss the one-year filing deadline simply because they were never informed about it.

Additionally, individuals who attempt to file timely applications regularly are prevented from doing so due to agency-imposed obstacles. Asylum-seekers who are not in removal proceedings must file their applications with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of DHS; those in removal proceedings must file with the immigration court (which falls within the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review, or EOIR). Because there is no consistent nationwide guidance, both USCIS and EOIR often reject applications, each claiming that the other agency has jurisdiction. The applicant is left in a "catch 22," unable to file with either. Even where it is clear that an individual is in removal proceedings, EOIR policies-which, at the time that the suit was filed, included a requirement that an applicant file an asylum application in open court-often prevent timely filing. Because all immigration courts are extremely backlogged, the initial hearing in many cases does not take place until more than a year after the asylum seeker arrived in the United States. Without the systemic relief sought in this lawsuit, thousands of asylum-seekers are at risk of being returned to the countries from which they fled without ever having their asylum claims considered.

Filed in June 2016, Mendez-Rojas v. Johnson, No. 16-01024 (W.D. Wash.), seeks timely notice of the one-year filing deadline and a mechanism—to be applied uniformly across the country-that guarantees an asylum seeker the opportunity to file an application within one year of entry. Since the lawsuit was filed, the immigration courts have announced they will take steps to resolve some of the issues raised in the lawsuit by accepting asylum applications by mail or at the court window (as opposed to only accepting them at a hearing in open court). However, the remaining claims in the suit remain unresolved.

Defendants are the Attorney General, EOIR, DHS, and its components, USCIS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In addition to the Council and NIPNLG, Plaintiffs are represented by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and a small immigration law firm, Dobrin & Han.

Contact Persons: 
Melissa Crow, Legal Director, American Immigration Council, mcrow@immcouncil.org, 202-507-7523 
Mary Kenney, Senior Staff Attorney, American Immigration Council, mkenney@immcouncil.org, 202-507-7512 
Trina Realmuto, Litigation Director, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, trina@nipnlg.org, 617-227-9727 ext. 8

Disability Rights North Carolina

In the nine years since it opened its doors as North Carolina's protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities, Disability Rights North Carolina has become a leading voice in protecting the legal rights of people with disabilities in the State. It is the only nonprofit organization in North Carolina dedicated to providing advocacy and legal services to people with all types of disabilities to protect their right to live independently with dignity in the communities of their choice. The mission of Disability Rights North Carolina is to protect the legal rights of people with disabilities through individual and systems advocacy. Its 16 staff attorneys and attorney managers conduct a wide range of legal advocacy services for people with disabilities, including the provision of direct legal representation to people with disabilities to protect their rights and ensure they receive the services to which they are entitled by law, bringing impact litigation, and acting as amicus curiae in disability-related cases. Learn more about the organization on its website – www.disabilityrightsnc.org.

THE CASE: Disability Rights North Carolina will use funding from the Barbara McDowell Foundation to file a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on behalf of all children and adolescents in North Carolina who are Medicaid eligible and who have been identified and diagnosed with complex behavioral, emotional, psychiatric, intellectual and developmental disabilities. These children are not being provided with appropriate medically necessary mental health services to treat their co-occurring conditions as required under the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPDST) provisions of Title XIX of the Social Security Act (Medicaid Act), 42 U.S.C. § 1396 et.seq. Defendants in the case are Governor Patrick McCrory and Secretary of the NC Department and Health and Human Services Patrick Brajer.

Disability Rights North Carolina began its investigation of this issue in 2009. During the investigation process, it reviewed the records of more than 100 children with co-occurring conditions and found that administration of the State's existing policies, procedures, and service delivery system for children with complex needs lacked effective case management, over-relied on institutional care, and failed to invest in effective community-based services and supports. While the percentage of children treated in out-of-home residential treatment facilities has fallen nationally, statistics show that North Carolina's children are not experiencing the same trend. North Carolina more than quadrupled the number of locked residential placements from 117 in 2005 to 494 in March 2010. In North Carolina, children and adolescents with complex needs experience cyclical hospitalizations (often stuck in emergency room beds for weeks because the hospital cannot find a place for them), are shipped out-of-state for treatment, suffer trauma and over-medication in inappropriate placements, and either are unable to access adequate services or receive no services at all.

Despite years of meetings with state policymakers and the direct legal representation of children with complex needs, the systemic denial of legally required Medicaid services continues. In response to a demand letter from Disability Rights North Carolina delivered in 2014 to the Governor and then NC DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, NC DHHS staff convened a work group to promote resolution of these long-standing issues. The work group has made progress towards the systemic reform needed to develop a system that responds to the unique, complex needs of this population but has not reached a final agreement to resolve all the issues. The primary objective for this litigation is to make sure that every child and adolescent in North Carolina has access to the full scope of services required by the Medicaid Act, specifically medically necessary treatment by qualified providers, and prompt provision of services and supports designed to correct or ameliorate the child's condition in the right setting and at the right time.

Contacts: John Rittelmeyer, Director of Special Litigation, john.rittelmeyer@disabilityrightsnc.org; or Iris Green, Senior Attorney, iris.green@disabilityrightsnc.org, Disability Rights North Carolina, 3724 National Drive, Suite 100, Raleigh, NC 27612 – 919-856-2195

Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center

The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) upholds due process and human rights protections for immigrants by leveraging its network of 1,500 pro bono attorneys and organizational partnerships. Informed by its direct legal service work with approximately 10,000 immigrants annually, NIJC identifies and challenges systemic barriers to justice. NIJC advances equity and inclusion so that all individuals – regardless of ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, or criminal background – can exercise their rights, reach their potential, and participate fully in society.

For several years, NIJC has been challenging the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) position that a prior removal order bars a noncitizen from being considered for asylum. In passing the Refugee Act and signing onto the Refugee Convention, Congress made the right to seek asylum broadly available and subject to limited exceptions. The categorical denial of this right to individuals who have been previously deported is improper. Nonetheless, DHS has denied thousands of people who previously were deported the opportunity to seek asylum.

THE CASE: With support from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation, NIJC will pursue this litigation in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on behalf of a Honduran environmentalist, Carlos, who left the United States after he was ordered deported in absentia in 2003. When Carlos returned to Honduras, his environmental activism affected powerful interests, leading to him being kidnapped and tortured for three days. When he went to the police to seek help, he realized that the police were involved in his torture. Fearing for his life, Carlos fled to the United States and was detained at the border. The immigration judge granted Carlos withholding of removal (a lesser form of protection) and denied asylum.

NIJC has represented Carlos throughout his immigration process, and has identified his case as presenting strong arguments to advance this issue. The issue in his case affects thousands of asylum seekers with prior deportation orders nationwide.

Contact: Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, 208 S. LaSalle, Suite 1300, Chicago, IL 60602, (312) 660-1351

Sargent Shriver National Center of Poverty Law

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law (Shriver Center) provides national leadership in advancing laws and policies that secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty. The organization achieves this mission through two interrelated programs: (1) Advocacy and (2) Advocate Resources & Training.

Through Advocacy, the Shriver Center develops and advances policies that respond directly to the needs of people in poverty. This advocacy addresses a broad agenda, including promoting access to fair housing, affordable health care, income supports and child care assistance, education equity, employment and training, and civil rights/community justice, and utilizes a variety of strategies including impact litigation, policy development and advocacy, and racial equity advocacy. Through Advocate Resources & Training, the Shriver Center provides intensive training programs and resources, enabling advocates across the US to come together to enhance their skills, share knowledge, and connect with each other to advance anti-poverty advocacy campaigns and drive systems change.

Increasingly, the Shriver Center brings together antipoverty advocates into action-oriented networks. These networks include the Clearinghouse Community, a free online forum where lawyers and other advocates share best practices and strategies; the Legal Impact Network, which connects leading state-based antipoverty organizations to share strategies and coordinate multi-state action; and the Racial Justice Training Institute, a six-month training program and growing network that helps antipoverty lawyers to advance racial justice advocacy within their daily practices, organizations, and communities.

THE CASE: In the late Spring of 2016, the Shriver Center, with Hughes Socol Piers Resnick Dym, Ltd. as co-counsel, filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against the Alexander County Housing Authority (ACHA) in Illinois for intentionally segregating its public housing by race and failing to provide critical upkeep, maintenance, and security measures to the predominantly African-American developments over the last decade. The case, Paul Lambert, et al. v. Alexander County Housing Authority, et al., asserts that the ACHA agents have engaged in both the pattern and practice of rampant discrimination for years based both on residents' race and familial status, violating the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003. The litigation aims to obtain fair and equal living conditions for all individuals residing in public housing under the ACHA and to remedy the segregation and discrimination it has practiced to date, including facilitation of a safe and responsible relocation process for residents should a desegregation order be given by the courts.

Contact: Kate Walz, Director of Housing Justice & Director of Litigation, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, 50 East Washington, Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60605

Western Center on Law & Poverty

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights for justice for low-income Californians by improving the public policy systems that affect their lives. We focus on health care, affordable housing, racial justice, public benefits, and access to justice issues, and we attain system-wide solutions for our state's most vulnerable residents. We educate policymakers and stakeholders, bring impact litigation in state and federal courts, sponsor legislation, conduct budget advocacy, promote better programs and policies at administrative agencies, and provide consultation and trainings to the State's legal services programs and community-based organizations.

THE CASE: Western Center on Law & Poverty has recently filed two cases to protect a fundamental principle of our justice system—that a person should not be punished simply for being poor. In California, many thousands of people have their driver's licenses suspended because they are unable to pay fines and fees related to minor traffic citations and other infractions. These fines and fees are not insignificant: over the past few decades the fines and fees associated with citations have skyrocketed. What used to be $100 violation now costs nearly $500, as a result of the numerous surcharges and other fees that have been added over the years to generate revenue for the operation of the courts and other basic functions of State government. And if a person misses an initial payment deadline, the cost of a ticket can quickly balloon to $800 or more. The consequences for not being able to pay these fines and fees can be severe and life altering. Courts throughout the state routinely refer defendants to the DMV for non-payment of traffic fines and fees or a failure to appear on the traffic charges without ever considering whether these defendants had the ability to pay the fines. Upon receiving this referral, the DMV is required by statute to suspend the person's driver's license. As of the end of 2014 there were nearly 33,000 suspended licenses in Solano County alone, a county of 425,000 people, for failure to appear and failure to pay.

In Rubicon v. Solano County Superior Court Western Center aims to stop the defendant court from enhancing fines for traffic defendants and referring them to Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for automatic license suspensions for willful failures to pay or failures to appear without determining ability to pay. In a related case, Mata Alvarado v. Superior Court of Los Angeles, Western Center seeks to compel the Los Angeles Superior Court to provide notices of action and employ court procedures that examine individuals' ability to pay prior to suspending driver's licenses for willful failures to pay. This litigation will affect hundreds of thousands of people.

These suits are the first of their kind in California and an outgrowth of two reports recently produced by Western Center and colleagues. Not Just a Ferguson Problem – How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California and Stopped, Fined and Arrested: Racial Bias in Policing and Traffic Courts in California explore the dramatic racial and socioeconomic disparities in driver's license suspensions and arrests related to unpaid traffic fines and fees in California. Western Center's intent is to develop legal, administrative and legislative solutions, in collaboration with state and national organizations, to reduce criminalization of poverty, including over-policing and exorbitant debt collection and, also to address the ongoing consequences of past practices.

Western Center Contact: Antionette Dozier, Senior Attorney, adozier@wclp.org or 213-235-2629.

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