CREECblog

Tennessee Launches New Accessible Absentee Voting Process

July 21, 2020
NASHVILLE, TN — The State of Tennessee has begun offering accessible absentee ballots for people with print disabilities in response to a demand by Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) in collaboration with the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center and National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee.
The recent expansion of absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic is offering many a pathway to exercise their right to vote without risking exposure to the virus. However, until now absentee voting in Tennessee has not been accessible to voters with print disabilities due to the use of paper ballots. A print disability interferes with the ability to effectively read, write, or use print materials and includes blindness, low vision, and some physical disabilities such as paralysis. The new accessible absentee ballot process allows voters with print disabilities to use supporting technology like screen readers and others to complete absentee voting forms.

“This month we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The State’s decision is a timely reminder that it is possible to ensure that public services are available for all,” says Brian Keller, DRT Public Policy and Voting Attorney.

This new offering by Tennessee ensures that people with print disabilities will be able to exercise their right to vote independently and privately while voting absentee, not only during the current crisis, but in future elections as well.

“We are pleased that the state moved swiftly to secure the rights of blind voters without the need for litigation,” said Terry Smith, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee. “Equal access to voting means access to all of the same options that other voters have, for which the National Federation of the Blind is fighting across the nation. We are pleased that it will finally be achieved in our state.”

How to request an accessible absentee ballot:

  • Visit the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website and click the link titled “Download Print Disability Absentee Ballot Request Form.”
  • Complete the form, which is compatible with screen readers and electronically fillable.
  • Print and sign anywhere on the form.
  • Once your request is approved, your county election office will send you an
    electronic ballot that is compatible with screen readers and electronically fillable.
  • Once you complete your ballot, you will be able to print it out, and send it back
    to your county election office.
  • Be sure to follow instructions about sending it
    back and be sure to sign the envelope as instructed.

Contact DRT at 1 (800) 342-1660 or GetHelp@disabilityrightstn.org if:

  •  You have questions or issues about requesting a print disability absentee ballot.
  • You need an accessible absentee ballot but have already requested a standard
    absentee ballot.

Many partners helped advocate for accessible absentee ballots, especially National Federation
of the Blind Tennessee, Mid Tennessee Council of the Blind, Tennessee Disability Coalition, The
Arc of Tennessee, and Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities. It is imperative that all
eligible voters be able to cast a ballot privately and independently. Now that is a reality.

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Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT), formerly Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee, is
the designated protection & advocacy agency for Tennessee. DRT provides free legal advocacy
services to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities. For 40 years, DRT has served over
50,000 people through direct services, education, and systemic advocacy.
https://www.disabilityrightstn.org/

Happy Anniversary ADA!

ADA 30th anniversary logo. ADA is in red caps and 30 is in blue next to it. The dates 1990-2020 are surrounded by red stars in a circle. Celebrate the ADA! is written

Credit: ADA National Network (adata.org)

July 26, 2020 is the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). During these 30 years, people with disabilities and their allies have used the ADA to reshape our society. Many people with disabilities have a place at the table and a clear path to get there both figuratively and literally. And yet much work remains to be done. This significant anniversary is a time to celebrate the many successes and renew our commitment to continued advocacy until all the barriers are gone and disability discrimination exists only as a part of history.

The foundational concepts of the ADA are accessibility and equality. These concepts overlap. So, for example, holding an event in a room that’s not accessible for wheelchair users is equivalent to posting a “no wheelchair users allowed” sign even if the organizers have no objection to people with mobility disabilities attending. Similarly, when a doctor’s office refuses to provide a sign language interpreter to a deaf patient, that office may as well say they don’t serve deaf people since they’re not offering equal services. There can be no accessibility without equality and vice versa.

I’ve had the good fortune to practice disability rights law for over 20 years. One of the things I love about this area of law is the variety of issues. People with all types of disabilities are protected by the ADA. And, with a little creativity and persistence, the ADA can be applied in some way to almost every situation and barrier. Early on the focus of ADA advocacy was physical accessibility for people with mobility disabilities. And that’s still an important focus because while many barriers have been removed, more remain. And, infuriatingly, more continue to be created.

In 2020 the ADA is being used to impact issues that were largely unimaginable in 1990. Technological advances have created the ability for people with print disabilities to vote independently and the ADA is the tool for ensuring that state governments modify their voting programs so that technology can be used. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of having plans in place for shortages of medical equipment, services, and supplies. The ADA is the tool for ensuring that people with disabilities are treated equally in those plans and by those implementing them. Supports and services exist now that enable people with significant disabilities to parent children. The ADA is the tool for making sure they are given the opportunity to do so.

So, here in 2020, there’s a whole array of people to advocate for and with and cases to work on to ensure accessibility and equality. Our colleagues and clients and the important issues we tackle together are the most exciting aspects of being an ADA attorney. And, yet, I can’t help but wonder why there are still so many barriers and so much discrimination 30 years after the ADA was passed. Shouldn’t everything be fixed by now? Of course, it should. This is why CREEC’s Accessibility Project fights with urgency to make the promise of the ADA real. Real for everyone. Real for every situation. We look forward to working together with our clients and colleagues to make sure that 30 years from now the ADA is a promise kept.

Martie Lafferty is the Director of CREEC’s Accessibility Project. With more than 20 years practicing disability rights law, Martie’s work has brought relief to numerous deaf and hard of hearing people who were refused effective communication in settings including housing, doctor’s offices, hospitals, courts, jails, and legislatures. She has also challenged many other accessibility issues including litigating against the State of Tennessee to eliminate barriers preventing access to the state’s court program and against a medical provider who refused to provide a diagnostic MRI to a wheelchair user. You can read more about Martie here.

Welcome Parima!

Parima Kadikar is kneeling next to and hugging her dog white labradoodle) in a parking lot. Parima is wearing jeans, sandals and a purple oxford shirt. CREEC is thrilled to welcome paralegal, Parima Kadikar!  A recent graduate of Columbia University, Parima is drawn to public interest work and looking forward to utilizing what she’s learned in school and internships in the world of nonprofit civil rights advocacy.

Before joining CREEC, Parima held legal internships at the Vera Institute of Justice’s Guardianship Project and the City Bar Justice Center of the New York City Bar Association, and policy internships with the NY State Office of the Attorney General and at the Solidarity is Global Institute – where she studied the impact of labor laws on refugee women in Jordan. From direct client interaction, to gaining a comparative perspective, these professional experiences helped solidify Parima’s interest in civil rights and immigration justice. In addition, Parima’s recent community involvement has included work at the New Sanctuary Coalition helping pro se litigants in immigration proceedings in New York and as Co-President of the South Asian Feminism(s) Alliance at Columbia University.

Parima states, “I was especially drawn to CREEC because of the opportunity it offers to make an impact at the intersection of civil rights and immigration law. Combined with its focus on disability and health advocacy, this intersection makes CREEC a unique and vital organization both in times of pandemic and beyond.”

Passionate about communicating with others in their first language when possible, Parima is fluent in English and Gujarati, works at the intermediate level in Arabic, and is conversational in Spanish and Hindi. She will be putting some of her language skills to work at CREEC with clients whose first language is not English. Outside of work and study, Parima enjoys dance, cooking, yoga, photography, and reading.

You can read more about Parima on CREEC’s staff page.

Complaint Successfully Nudges Tennessee Forward

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tenneseans with Disabilities Welcome State’s Improved Guidelines: Revisions Prohibit Discrimination in Healthcare Rationing

June 26, 2020

NASHVILLE, TN  – Tennessee has issued revised guidance prohibiting healthcare providers from discriminating against people with disabilities even when public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic necessitate rationing of scarce resources. In response to a complaint filed by disability rights advocates (View complaint), the Tennessee Department of Health and COVID-19 Unified Command have revised the “Guidance for the Ethical Allocation of Scarce Resources During a Community-Wide Public Health Emergency as Declared by the Governor of Tennessee.” The revised document replaces the prior version released in July 2016 (View revised document).

The revised guidance has effectively put Tennessee health providers on notice: Tennesseans with disabilities must be treated equally in healthcare decisions including those made during the COVID-19 pandemic or other public health emergencies. The protections of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) and similar laws are not curtailed during emergencies.

“We appreciate Tennessee’s prompt response to our complaint and willingness to meet the needs of people with disabilities by addressing issues beyond those we initially raised,” said Brian Keller, Public Policy Attorney at Disability Rights Tennessee.

Key revisions to the guidelines include:

  • Removal of categorical exclusions based on disability in favor of individual assessments. An individual can no longer be excluded from treatment based solely on a diagnosed disability.
  • Narrowing the scope of survivability assessments from one year to imminent survival.
  • Requiring reasonable modifications when necessary due to disability. This includes modifications to survivability assessment tools. For example, a person’s speech disability may negatively impact these assessments even though she does not have a lower likelihood of imminent survival.

In addition to these key changes, the revised guidelines incorporate civil rights requirements issued by the Office of Civil Rights for the Department of Health and Human Services and encourage hospitals and long-term care facilities to modify visitor policies on a case-by-case basis when they can do so safely.

Martie Lafferty, Director of the Accessibility Project at the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center expressed appreciation for the timing of Tennessee’s revisions saying, “In this moment of public health uncertainty, as we anticipate with dread a second wave of COVID-19 infections, it is gratifying that Tennessee has taken this important step to ensure equal access to healthcare under all circumstances. Tennesseans with disabilities no longer need to fear they will be treated as second class citizens when seeking medical treatment during a public health emergency.”

Carol Westlake, Executive Director of the Tennessee Disability Coalition added, “We’re incredibly grateful to the State for its quick and decisive action. While this important and updated guidance lays out a comprehensive roadmap for healthcare administrators, it’s equally important for Tennesseans to understand their individual rights under state and federal laws. Because it takes time for top-down guidance to make it to frontline providers, it is critical for people with disabilities to know their rights and advocate for them.”

If you or a family member have a disability and are being negatively impacted by healthcare rationing or visitor policies at a Tennessee health care facility, please contact Disability Rights Tennessee at 1.800.342.1660 or by email at GetHelp@disabilityrightstn.org

Tennessee organizations that took the lead on filing the complaint that prompted Tennessee to issue these revised guidelines are the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, Disability Rights Tennessee, The Arc Tennessee, and the Tennessee Disability Coalition. Individuals from these organizations are available for interviews as indicated below. In addition, multiple additional Tennessee and national organizations joined as complainants and/or counsel. Several individuals with disabilities joined as complainants. A full list of complainants and counsel follows.

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Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) is a nonprofit membership organization whose goal is to ensure that everyone can fully and independently participate in our nation’s civic life without discrimination based on race, gender, disability, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity. https://creeclaw.org/.

Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT), formerly Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee, is the designated protection & advocacy agency for Tennessee. DRT provides free legal advocacy services to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities. For 40 years, DRT has served over 50,000 people through direct services, education, and systemic advocacy.  https://www.disabilityrightstn.org/

The Arc Tennessee is a grassroots, nonprofit, statewide advocacy organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. Founded in 1952, The Arc Tennessee is affiliated with The Arc United States and works collaboratively with local chapters across the state. The Arc Tennessee empowers people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families to actively participate in the community throughout their lifetime. https://www.thearctn.org/

The Tennessee Disability Coalition is a 501(c)3 nonprofit alliance of 40+ member organizations and individuals joined to promote the full and equal participation of people with disabilities in all

aspects of life. With programs, policy, and purpose we collectively advocate for self-determination, independence, empowerment, and inclusion for people with disabilities in areas such as accessibility, education, healthcare, housing, and voting rights. For more information about the Tennessee Disability Coalition, please visit www.tndisability.org, email coalition@tndisability.org, or call (615) 927-3694.

Individual Complainants

Erin Brady Worsham
Jean Marie Lawrence
Toni and Wallace Corbin
John and Pam Bryan
Jennifer Aprea

Organizational Complainants (counsel indicated by *)

Disability Rights Tennessee

Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center

Tennessee Disability Coalition

The Arc TN

The Arc of the United States

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Center for Public Representation

Samuel Bagenstos* sbagen@gmail.com

Epilepsy Foundation of Middle & West Tennessee

National Kidney Foundation

National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Advocates Take ICE Back to Court Requesting Enforcement of Previous Ruling to Protect People in Custody from COVID-19

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 25, 2020

Attorneys from national civil rights organizations seek to enforce earlier order to ensure the safety of thousands of people in detention

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Last night civil rights advocates filed a motion to enforce a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Central Division of California, seeking to enforce U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal’s recent order imposed on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Attorneys in the ongoing system-wide class action lawsuit Fraihat v ICE argue that ICE has flouted Judge Bernal’s order in three critical areas: failure to implement meaningful oversight measures; failure to review for release all people with COVID-19 risk factors; and failure to quickly and adequately update their detention standards to ensure the safety of medically vulnerable people in detention.

In recent weeks, COVID-19 cases have continued to skyrocket in ICE detention centers across the country – a grim reality proving that the agency is knowingly putting people at risk in defiance of the Court’s order. By ICE’s own count, there were 124 people in their custody who tested positive for COVID-19 at the time of the April 20 order. Today, that number is close to 2,500. ICE continues to detain the majority of medically vulnerable people in their custody in unsafe conditions.

Two individuals, Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia and Santiago Baten-Oxlaj, recently died of COVID-19 while in ICE custody – a tragic and senseless loss of life resulting from the agency’s decision to continue to detain them in dangerous conditions despite having broad discretion to release people.

“Six weeks ago, the Court ordered ICE to evaluate at-risk populations for potential release and ensure that those still in custody receive appropriate care and safe conditions of confinement.” said Tim Fox, Co-executive Director of Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center. “ICE has failed to meaningfully conduct custody reviews and has failed to protect medically vulnerable people. Such blatant disregard for the lives and health of thousands of human beings is a disgrace.”

Attorneys argue that ICE was unwilling or unable to quickly and adequately revise their detention standards as ordered by the court on April 20, continuing to permit dangerous conditions and practices in detention facilities that threaten the lives of detained immigrants, especially the medically vulnerable. These practices include inadequate COVID-19 testing, unnecessary transfers, use of solitary confinement as a form of infection control, and inadequate medical screening and surveillance.

In the Aurora Detention Center in Aurora, Colorado, a 57-year-old man with hypertension has been detained at the facility since being transferred there on May 15 from Sterling Correctional Facility, the site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks. Later that month, he was admitted to the hospital with severe COVID-19 symptoms. Upon returning to Aurora approximately one week later, ICE placed him in disciplinary segregation, or “the Hole.” Said the man in a sworn declaration, “I felt so bad when I first returned that I could not really stand up and I had to ask for a shower chair when I used the shower. My cell was filthy and freezing and I had nothing to clean with.” The man is still suffering from shortness of breath. “I have not been seen by the doctor since I got back from the hospital,” he continued. ICE is refusing to release him to shelter in place with his family.

“I am very worried that I am going to have more heart issues and I will die without them noticing,” said another man detained at Adelanto Detention Center in California. In May of 2020, he was admitted to the hospital for severe chest pain but returned to Adelanto four days later. As soon as he returned from the hospital, ICE locked him in solitary confinement as a form of quarantine. Noting the agency’s lack of adequate testing, the man added, “I have never received a COVID-19 test. I was not tested when I returned from the hospital.” Despite the risks of his continued detention and right to a Court-ordered custody redetermination, the 37-year-old refugee remains at Adelanto and ICE refuses to release him.

“By all accounts, we’re seeing ICE treat people with the same ‘callous indifference’ the Court recognized in granting our preliminary injunction in April,” said Jared Davidson, Senior Staff Attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “In proving themselves incapable of treating those in its custody humanely, ICE is systematically depriving the freedom and safety of tens of thousands of people in violation of its constitutional and statutory obligations.”

The motion to enforce also asserts that ICE has failed to meaningfully conduct custody redeterminations in a timely manner, as required by the Court’s April 20 order. ICE has refused to release the vast majority of people with risk factors, often issuing perfunctory denials of release without explanation. This practice is in violation of the Court’s order to review all detained people with risk factors “regardless of their statutory authority for their detention.”

Given the inadequate response from ICE and the rising number COVID-19 infections in detention centers, the motion to enforce requests that the Court appoint a Special Master to monitor ICE’s future compliance and to provide real-time reports that will help protect medically vulnerable people in detention from grave harm. The motion also requests that the Court order the release of medically vulnerable people unless ICE can demonstrate that they are a flight risk or danger. In addition, the motion demands that specific precautions be added to ICE’s detention standards, including universal testing, prohibitions on transfers (which spread the virus), a prohibition on the use of solitary confinement as a means of medical isolation or quarantine, expanded medical monitoring and treatment planning for medically vulnerable people, amongst other measures.

“ICE’s failure to comply with the court’s order, combined with the gravity of the health risks at issue for detained persons with risk factors for COVID-19, necessitates having a third party Special Master do what ICE has demonstrated it has failed to do on its own,” said Stuart Seaborn, Managing Director of Litigation at Disability Rights Advocates.

The Fraihat v. ICE lawsuit filed by the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP in August of 2019 seeks an end to the inhumane and traumatic experience of ICE detention affecting tens of thousands across the country.

See plaintiffs’ motion to enforce the April 20, 2020 preliminary injunction order here.

See the complaint here and all other filings in the case here.

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Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), founded in 1993, is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center.  Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-changing, class action cases.  Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting, housing, and juvenile justice. https://www.dralegal.org.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.  Through its Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, the SPLC provides direct representation to immigrants in remote, rural detention centers in two of the states with the highest numbers of detained individuals, Louisiana and Georgia.  https://www.splcenter.org/.

Orrick has 27 offices worldwide, and focuses on serving the Technology, Energy & Infrastructure and Finance sectors globally. Clients worldwide call on Orrick’s teams for forward-looking commercial advice on transactions, litigation and compliance matters.  https://www.orrick.com/en/About-Us.

Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP is an international law firm of more than 700 attorneys with offices in New York, Washington, Houston, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Chicago, Paris, London, Frankfurt, Brussels, Milan and Rome. The Firm is headquartered in New York City at 787 Seventh Avenue. Tel: 212.728.8000. https://www.willkie.com/about-us

Update: CREEC’s 2020 Annual Event

On June 9, 2020, Amy and Tim emailed the following letter to the CREEC community:

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Supporters,

We have made the difficult decision to cancel CREEC’s 2020 in-person event. We’re hopeful that Colorado’s phased-in opening process will proceed smoothly, but are not confident that the Covid-19 virus will be contained enough for us to comfortably hold a large, indoor event by mid-September. Because risk of complications from infection remain high for  medically vulnerable populations, holding an in-person event would exclude members of our community. And that is the opposite of all that we believe in and fight for.

Recognizing the importance of coming together and celebrating the critical work of the civil rights community now perhaps more than ever, we at CREEC are determined to find a safe alternative to our annual in-person event.

Stay tuned and please continue to reserve some time for CREEC and our community on the evening of September 17, 2020, but know that whatever we have in store for you this year can be done with your slippers on!

In community,

Amy and Tim

New Partnership – We the Action

We the Action LogoAs the need became more dire, CREEC knew who to call on.  We the Action.

The successful request for emergency preliminary injunction in the Fraihat v. ICE case filed by CREEC and co-counsel at the start of the pandemic opened the legal door for thousands of immigrants in detention who are medically vulnerable to be potentially released. Except that ICE detains thousands of people who have no legal representation, and we could not be sure ICE was appropriately considering those people. When the need for short-term legal help for people covered under the court’s order increased, CREEC reached out to We the Action – a nonprofit that pairs volunteer lawyers with mission compatible projects.

Director of CREEC’s Immigration Accountability Project (IDAP), Elizabeth Jordan explains, “We frankly don’t trust ICE to get this process right, and we know that data has proven time and again that immigrants who have lawyers have better odds for better outcomes on all sorts of issues. We felt that we had a duty to Fraihat class members to match as many of them as possible with lawyers to help them seek release and stay safe from the pandemic.”

CREEC applied to be a We the Action partner, proposing a project in which volunteer lawyers could provide limited representation for detained people seeking custody review pursuant to the Fraihat order. Just six days after posting the project on We the Action’s website, we heard from six interested attorneys. In five short weeks, the number of volunteers grew to 38.

To date, volunteer attorneys have helped at least 16 detained people request release and many more are in process. The project is putting much needed pressure on ICE to do the right thing consistent with the judge’s order. The project’s volunteer attorneys are shining a light on ICE’s noncompliance with the judge’s orders when they refuse to release medically vulnerable immigrants or provide adequate medical protection. In addition, CREEC’s immigrant rights allies have been resources in this project providing additional referrals and expertise.

Shyrissa Dobbins is one of the volunteer lawyers who found CREEC’s project through We the Action. “I was looking for a way to help during the pandemic, especially those most vulnerable. I was familiar with the Fraihat v. ICE case through some volunteer work I’d done for Al Otro Lado [one of the plaintiff organizations in the case] and knew this would be a worthy project,” said Shyrissa. CREEC is so glad Shyrissa responded to the call! Shyrissa has already committed to working on three cases and intends to take on more. Commenting on her experience thus far Shyrissa states, “It’s humbling to be working with detained persons, especially those at increased risk from COVID-19. They are so brave and they’re scared to death. They know they’re medically vulnerable and they’re stuck in a small cage with at least two other people – social distancing clearly isn’t an option.”

After CREEC is connected with interested attorneys through We the Action, we train them in the custody review process and then each volunteer attorney is paired with a mentor from CREEC or one of the co-counsel organizations in the Fraihat case.

Senior Staff Attorney, Pilar Gonzalez Morales explains, “CREEC is thrilled to partner with We the Action. This project is incredibly important to ensure medically vulnerable people are afforded the review process granted by the Court. It provides attorneys and advocates from many different backgrounds and legal experience to see how the ICE system functions, and often, malfunctions and to work closely with detained individuals. The volunteers have been exceptional and having a mentor throughout the process has helped our volunteers obtain quick assistance as they navigate the intricate detention system.”

We the Action begins with the premise that lawyers have the power to do good and that there are many worthy projects already established by our country’s leading nonprofits. We the Action matches these two forces in an effort to multiply impact beyond what can be done separately. CREEC, for one, is glad they do.

Elizabeth Jordan remarks, “We have been absolutely delighted by this partnership. We the Action is a responsive, robust partner and they’ve been with us every step of the way as we got this entirely new type of limited immigration representation off the ground. We hope to continue working with WtA on other projects as the opportunity arises in our IDAP work at CREEC.”

Check out We the Action’s website to see all the amazing projects they offer through their partner organizations.

CREEC Supports Those Protesting Racist Violence. Black Lives Matter.

The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) condemns racialized police brutality, racist vigilantism, and white weaponization of law enforcement. So much to condemn; so much work to do.

Building on 400 years of racism and white supremacy in this country, this year has brought more shameful examples of racialized police brutality, including the recent murders at the hands of police officers of George Floyd (Black man), Breonna Taylor (Black woman), Tony McDade (Black trans man), Malik Williams (Black disabled man), and so many others on and off camera. This scourge plagues the entire nation, including CREEC’s home state of Colorado, where law enforcement murders of black men like Elijah McClain, Marvin Booker, Michael Marshall, and De’Von Bailey have not gained the national attention they deserve.

We have also seen the vastly different law enforcement response to people protesting these murders – in Minneapolis, Denver, and elsewhere – in contrast to the response to white people – often armed – protesting measures instituted to protect us from the pandemic. We condemn these actions and the racist and white supremacist system of which they are a part. We call on cities to hold their police departments accountable. We call on society to recognize and work to eradicate the white supremacy that underpins so many of our institutions and replace those institutions with processes not hardwired to overpolice and cage Black and Brown people.

CREEC also condemns the racist vigilantism exemplified by the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and white weaponization of law enforcement such as Amy Cooper’s attempted murder-by-cop of Christian Cooper, a Black birder in Central Park. These, too, are not isolated examples, but common products of a system that devalues and suspects Black lives and privileges white words and bodies.

We recognize that this time – like so many others – is difficult, traumatic, and stressful for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in this country, and we lift up these communities with love and respect – and the space these communities need to grieve.

We call on white Americans – and recognize that this includes CREEC’s white staff and board members – to recognize and work to dismantle the white supremacist system in which we live.

Please consider learning more about anti-racism and supporting and donating to those at the front lines of this current fight:

By the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center

Welcome Allegra!

We are thrilled to announce that Allegra Upton has joined CREEC’s Summer Intern Program! A Colorado native, graduate of CU Boulder, and second-year student at the University of San Francisco School of Law, Allegra will be working closely with CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Program (IDAP) during her internship.

summer intern Allegra Upton sitting on mosaic-tiled stair case. She's wearing a white sweater and a fushia dress. She has long, brown hair.Allegra holds a lifelong passion for disability rights and her interest in immigration rights developed while at the University of Colorado, culminating in an English Honors Thesis titled, “The Othering of Muslim Women by Western & Eastern Societies.” It’s hardly surprising that Allegra found herself drawn to IDAP where she will be on the forefront of disability law, immigration law, and their intersection.  “I was inspired to pursue these areas of law by both my personal background and a consistent dedication to helping others. CREEC offers the extraordinary opportunity to work on large scale impact and systemic change, which is exactly the type of work I envision for my legal career,” states Allegra. “I am also incredibly grateful to USF Law School for underwriting my internship experience with a Public Interest Law Foundation grant, which makes it possible to pursue such a deeply meaningful experience.”

Prior to her CREEC internship, Allegra contributed to several advocacy organizations related to her professional interests. Allegra’s previous work ranges from serving as a congressional intern for Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet where she was involved with immigration casework, to three years as writer and editor at The Borgen Project, a nonprofit advocating bipartisan legislation to combat global poverty.

IDAP Director Liz Jordan remarks, “We’re so excited to welcome Allegra to the IDAP team for the summer. She’s enthusiastic and has so many skills she’s developing as a law student that will be of great help to our project and clients. We are certain she’ll make important contributions to our timely and urgent work, especially around the COVID-19 pandemic in ICE detention.”

Outside of work and school, Allegra enjoys running and singing – sometimes simultaneously if the inspiration so strikes! She has raced in several marathons (including local favorite, the Colfax Marathon) and, as President of CU Women’s Chorus, she once performed in Carnegie Hall, NY. In addition to interning this summer with CREEC, Allegra is learning Spanish online, adding to her working proficiency in French.

Please join all of us at CREEC in saying, “Welcome, Allegra!”

 

CREEC and Others Call on Governor Polis to Stop COVID-19 From Becoming a Death Sentence for People in Prisons

As COVID-19 outbreaks continue to climb in Colorado prisons, CREEC joined others calling on Governor Polis to assert his executive authority and clemency powers to protect the most vulnerable people in prisons before it’s too late. The letter cited new data proving that his actions to date are insufficient to protect the lives of elderly and medically compromised people in prisons, correctional staff, and the community at large.

While Colorado’s COVID-19 curve may be flattening for those who are free, the public health crisis is reaching a fever pitch for people who are incarcerated. A recent article revealed that testing at the Sterling Correctional Facility, now the site of the state’s 2nd largest COVID-19 outbreak, has confirmed that at least 278 people there — 266 incarcerated people and 12 staff members — have tested positive for the virus, many of whom are asymptomatic. At four other U.S. state prisons, 96% of the nearly 3,300 people who tested positive also showed no symptoms for the virus, further illustrating that simply isolating those who seem sick from those who appear well is not enough to halt the spread. At least one man died from contracting COVID-19 at Sterling — he was 86-years-old.

ACLU-Colorado and eight criminal justice and indigent defense organizations sent a letter to the Governor on March 17 urging him to take decisive action to depopulate prisons and jails. The Governor later issued an Executive Order, which granted Colorado Department of Corrections Director Dean Williams the broad authority to consider releasing more than 7,000 people. But that order has been ineffective. More than a month after the Governor’s executive order was issued, the CDOC has only released around 200 people, with over 16,000 remaining behind bars and prisons still at over 90% capacity. According to the CDOC’s website, so far at least 25 CDOC staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 and 57 are on leave related to possible symptoms or exposure. These numbers, like those at other facilities around the country, are almost certainly a dramatic undercount of the number of infected staff members statewide.

“It is impossible to take the steps necessary to protect against the spread of this terrifying virus unless the prison population is significantly reduced,” said Amy Robertson, Co-Executive Director of Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center.  “We urge the Governor and Director Williams to use well-established powers to head off this crisis.”

Today’s letter makes specific recommendations for actions by Governor Polis that would substantially and safely reduce the prison population. In following these recommendations, Governor Polis would join the ranks of Governors from a dozen states who have worked to release thousands of incarcerated people on an emergency basis to mitigate disaster, including New York, Kentucky, and Maryland. In Colorado, the numbers prove that left to its own devices, the CDOC has not effectively and substantially reduced the prison population and the Governor must intervene.

Other signatories of the letter are the: Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Center for Health Progress, Office of Respondent Parents’ Counsel, Black Lives Matter 5280, Colorado Lawyers Committee, Office of Alternate Defense Counsel, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, Working Families Party, Lawyers Civil Rights Coalition, Second Chance Center, Colorado Freedom Fund, Criminal Justice Act Panel Standing Committee and ACLU of Colorado.

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