On the Road

CREEC attorney and Director of the Immigration Detention Accountability Project, Liz Jordan,  participated in the Chicagoland Immigration and Disability Summit 2019 this fall. At CREEC, we take seriously the education part of our name. Participation in conferences, trainings, and meetings to share and learn is crucial to our work and central to our organizational values. I was so excited to accept the invitation to participate in the Chicagoland Immigration and Disability Summit 2019, hosted by two long-standing partners, Access Living and the National Immigrant Justice Center. The goal of the summit was to explore the intersection of disability and immigration rights with advocates and directly impacted people, forge relationships, and develop concrete tools for advancing the rights of immigrants with disabilities. Plus, I was excited to finally meet in person many people in the Chicago area who I had previously only emailed with! On the first day, I presented on a panel titled, “Current Disability Rights for Immigrants: Legislative and Regulatory Landscape.” We discussed the applicable disability laws and constitutional protections for immigrants with disabilities. I focused my remarks on the rights of people in ICE custody. Later that day, I was honored to moderate a panel of fearless advocates who discussed the tools they use to support immigrants with disabilities. I was also very moved to listen to a panel of immigrants with disabilities sharing their stories of coming to the U.S. and navigating the immigration and other systems here. On the second day of the summit, I presented on a panel titled, “Spotlight: Mental Health and Immigration”. Here, I focused my presentation on our recently-filed Fraihat v...

Press Release: Colorado Department of Corrections Ordered to Provide Videophones to Deaf Prisoners.

For Immediate Release Thursday, September 19, 2019   COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS ORDERED TO PROVIDE VIDEOPHONES TO DEAF PRISONERS Ruling comes three years after prisoner-initiated lawsuit filed. DENVER — A Denver federal court yesterday ordered the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) to provide videophones for Deaf prisoners.  This order ensures that Deaf prisoners will be able to communicate with their family and friends in sign language. The order comes after three years of litigation initiated pro se by lead plaintiff Bionca Rogers. Ms. Rogers, a prisoner in the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility (DWCF), can hear, but her mother is Deaf. Before Ms. Rogers was incarcerated, she and her mother communicated by videophone – the now-widespread technology providing telecommunications for deaf people who communicate in sign language. In late 2015, after arriving at DWCF, Ms. Rogers asked to contact her mother – guardian of her two young children – by videophone.  CDOC refused, and told Ms. Rogers that she would have to use the teletypewriter, or TTY, 60-year-old technology that requires both parties to have TTY machines, and to type back and forth to each other. Since her mother – like most Deaf people – did not own a TTY, this required a three-step relay process:  Ms. Rogers typed into the TTY; a TTY relay operator spoke her words to a video relay operator; who then interpreted them into ASL.  When Ms. Rogers’s mother responded, the three-step process was repeated in reverse. Because this is a very ineffective way of communicating – in no way equivalent to hearing prisoners speaking by phone with hearing friends and family – Ms. Rogers...

Fighting for the Rights of Deaf Immigrants in Detention

“I was so sad. So afraid I’d never see my son again. I had no idea that they [US Customs and Border Patrol] would separate us, especially in the case of my son who is deaf and who can’t communicate easily,” says an asylum-seeking mom from Guatemala who prefers to remain anonymous for safety reasons. She goes on to say that CREEC’s Liz Jordan “helped me communicate with my son, and closely followed what was happening to me. Without CREEC’s help I would not have been able to figure out what was happening with my son and I would not have been able to fight my case.” Separated from his mother soon after crossing the border in April 2018, a 17-yr old deaf asylum seeker was transported alone hundreds of miles away to an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter in Arizona – without interpretation services or accommodations of any kind. His only means of communication? Drawing pictures. Meanwhile, the boy’s mother was sent to the ICE detention center in Aurora, Colorado where she asked for a video call with her son. Her requests were ignored. She says, “I felt so alone when I first got to Aurora. I didn’t know what I had to do. I met with a pro bono attorney and explained everything that had happened with me and my son and that he was deaf. They referred my case to CREEC. I remember my first visit from CREEC. I felt so much more supported. I felt myself come back to life a bit.” “It was a long fight involving multiple requests for a video call, consistent...

Accessibility Project Update: Rights of Disabled Inmates

CREEC is pleased to announce a new resource called Inmates with Disabilities: Know Your Rights.  This resource provides an overview of the rights of disabled inmates and gives examples of potential violations. Please share it with anyone who may benefit from it. We greatly appreciate the work of our summer intern, Jordan Staley, on this project and wish him all the best as he begins his third year at Denver Law. A more detailed discussion of the rights of disabled inmates follows below. Applicable Laws Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)[1] and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504)[2] protect people, including inmates of jails and prisons, from disability discrimination. This means jails and prisons[3] must not discriminate against inmates because of their disability and must give disabled inmates equal access to the programs, services, and benefits of the facility. So, for example, a jail cannot provide classes only in a building that is physically inaccessible to wheelchair users. Similarly, prisons cannot segregate blind inmates by automatically housing all of them in the medical unit.  Individuals with a relationship or association with a disabled person are also protected by these federal laws. So, jails and prisons also cannot discriminate against family members and friends of disabled inmates or disabled family members and friends of nondisabled inmates. Changes Needed Due to Disability Sometimes disabled inmates need the facility to make a change to allow them to fully participate in its programs, services, or benefits. The ADA and Section 504 require prisons and jails to make such changes (referred to as accommodations or modifications) as long as...

Deaf Inmate Access to Phone Calls

Connecting with family and friends outside prison can be difficult and expensive for all inmates.  However, once they’ve navigated the prison’s red tape and are able to make a call, hearing inmates can directly communicate with their contacts outside the prison. That is not the case for deaf inmates.  Many jails and prisons across the country offer only outdated and ineffective technology to people who are deaf.  Along with partners including the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), CREEC is working to make sure deaf inmates have effective communication in prisons across the country.  This includes access to effective phone calls, including videophones and CapTel (captioned phones). For deaf people whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL) or another sign language, videophones are necessary for effective phone communication.  Videophones (VPs) allow deaf inmates to communicate in sign language with those outside prison, including friends, family, and attorneys.  When a deaf inmate uses VP to call a deaf person outside prison, there is direct communication in sign language.  When a deaf inmate uses VP to call a hearing person outside prison, the deaf inmate can communicate in sign language through a relay operator who is a sign language interpreter. Although deaf inmates need VP for effective communication, most prisons only provide teletypewriters (TTY), an outdated technology that requires the parties to type back and forth in English (generally the second language for most deaf people). As one expert explained, “consider the prisoner outrage that would result from a . . . policy . . . require[ing] all prisoners to communicate. . . only by using fax machines.  Communication via...

Paying Forward: CREECs Extern Program

“I have a strong interest in immigration law and policy and heard about the vital work CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project is doing.  Knowing that the attorneys at CREEC have a reputation for doing smart, high-stakes work that improves people’s lives, I applied for a CREEC externship as a way to challenge myself to grow in new areas while doing work I believe in.”  – Allison Crennen-Dunlap, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2019, University of Denver – Sturm College of Law. CREEC Extern Spring 2019 Since 2015, CREEC has offered first-hand experience in civil rights litigation, research and advocacy to area law students through its extern program. Co-Executive Director, Amy Robertson says, “it is always exciting to work with the next generation of civil rights lawyers and leaders, especially in collaboration with Denver Law given its robust commitment to experiential learning.” To date, CREEC has offered experience in civil rights law to 8 externs. This summer is no different, as CREEC welcomes externs Jordan Staley and Kiley Oblisk.  Jordan is a rising third year law student, who will be working with CREEC’s Accessibility Projects including communications access for Deaf and hard of hearing prisoners and hospital patients. During his 2L year, Jordan worked in Denver Law’s Civil Rights Clinic, where he represented a federal prisoner in a religious discrimination case. He’s excited to continue working in civil rights this summer and looks forward to the opportunity to learn more about disability law.  Kiley is a rising second year law student joining CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project. Prior to law school, she worked for the Colorado Public Defender in Durango, working especially...