Investigation of Communication Problems in Tennessee Prisons

The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) and Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) are currently investigating communication barriers for deaf inmates in Tennessee prisons. This includes prisons operated by the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) and by CoreCivic.

If you are a deaf inmate in a Tennessee prison and are having communication problems OR know a deaf inmate in a Tennessee prison who is having communication problems, please contact DRT by phone at 1-800-342-1660 or by email at

Examples of communication problems include:

  • No sign language interpreter for communications like:
    • medical appointments
    • classes
    • classification
    • STRONG-R
  • Using other inmates as “interpreters”
  • Grievance information only in written English
  • No videophones
  • Greater access to telephones than videophones
  • No visual fire and emergency alarms
  • No closed captions on TVs

These are only examples. This is not a complete list of communication problems that may be occurring.

While the current investigation is focused on Tennessee, if you are experiencing these issues in prisons outside of TN or know others who are, please contact CREEC by phone at 303.757.7901 or

Please post the attached notice in a public space and please share this information with deaf inmates and their friends or family members.

PDF Version of Public Notice



Tim Fox Writes for the Civil Rights Insider

banner logo for the Civil Rights Insider with the name of the publication written across clouds and the top portion of the American flag

Co-Executive Director, Tim Fox, was invited by the Federal Bar Association’s Civil Rights Law Section to write an article for their newsletter, the Civil Rights Insider regarding the Fraihat v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Case No. 5:19-cv-01546 (C.D. Cal). On August 19, CREEC and others filed this nationwide class-action lawsuit challenging abusive and horrific conditions of confinement at approximately 158 immigration detention centers across the country. Fraihat alleges violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and also alleges that the Department of Homeland Security and ICE have a long-standing pattern and practice of failing to adequately monitor and oversee immigration detention centers.

The Federal Bar Association is dedicated to keeping its members informed about current federal issues. One avenue for this is through their quarterly newsletter, the Civil Rights Insider.

You can read Tim’s article, “Civil Rights Groups Charge that ICE Disregards Immigrants’ Medical, Mental Health Needs and Ignores Discrimination Against Immigrants with Disabilities” in-full on page four of the Fall 2019 issue of the Civil Rights Insider.

To read more about Fraihat v ICE, visit our case page.

Full and Equal Enjoyment for Sports and Music Fans

Client spotlight:  Kirstin Kurlander Garcia

Deaf lacrosse fan and CREEC client, Kirstin Kurlander Garcia has been instrumental in bringing open captioning to both the Pepsi Center and Broncos Stadium. Using CREEC’s Fast Advocacy for Communication program, she was also recently able to secure an interpreter for the Violent Femmes concert at Planet Bluegrass.

“Our family enjoys professional lacrosse games at both the Pepsi Center and Broncos Stadium, but I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the events without access to the announcements – players, penalties, and all the other things that entertain us between plays,” Kirsten explained. She approached CREEC about the Pepsi Center; we approached the Pepsi Center to discuss the issue, but ultimately resolved the case in Kirsten’s favor through class action litigation. Soon thereafter, Kirsten and CREEC reached out to Broncos Stadium and were able to work with the folks there – without need for litigation – to ensure open captioning.

Broncos stadium shown with newly installed open captioning screen in center of imageAs a result of the collaboration between Kirsten and CREEC’s Accessibility Project, deaf and hard of hearing lacrosse fans – and hockey, basketball, and football fans – can all enjoy access to the same public address content as hearing fans.

Also an avid music fan, Kirsten was interested in attending a summer 2019 Violent Femmes concert at Planet Bluegrass. Long before the conceViolent Femmes playing on an elevated stage. FLOW interpreter pictured below interpreting the concertrt date, Kirsten reached out to Planet Bluegrass to request a sign language interpreter. The venue owners responded with a common misconception:  that it’s up to the individual bands to provide interpreters. In fact, both owners and operators – venues and performers, in this case – are responsible for ensuring effective communication for deaf patrons.  Through CREEC’s Fast Advocacy for Communication program, we wrote a letter to Planet Bluegrass and followed up with a conversation with the venue president, explaining the ADA’s requirements for interpretation and communication. Result:  interpreters provided!

“I was very glad that Planet Bluegrass provided interpreters, though there were still some ‘growing pains,’” said Kirsten. It took 20 minutes and the intervention of a bandmember’s wife to get a taped-off area so the interpreter would not be lost in the crowd, and the venue did not provide lighting for that area. “The interpreters themselves were excellent, as they were provided by the experienced folks at FLOW Interpreting,” she added. That company and concert interpreting were highlighted in a recent Colorado Public Radio story.

“The Violent Femmes are very Kirsten is backstage with bandmembersimportant to me, as they were the last sound I ever heard. I was listening to their music as I went into the surgery that would take my hearing,” Kirsten explained. “I’ve seen them perform many times since then.” She was very excited to be asked backstage after the concert as “friends of the band.”

“We’ve really enjoyed working with Kirstin and hope other deaf and hard of hearing people will reach out and use CREEC’s Fast Advocacy for Communication program when they are denied interpreters or captioning,” CREEC’s Co-Executive Director, Amy Robertson, said.

Help CREEC Continue to Help Others:

CREEC’s work is only possible with your support! Please consider a donation to help CREEC continue to challenge discrimination.

  • Give online
  • Text-to-Donate: Text “SupportCREEC” to 44321
  • Mail a check to: CREEC | 104 Broadway Suite 400 | Denver, CO 80203
  • Call us at: 303.757.7901

Thank You!


Spreading the Word: Deaf Awareness Day at the Denver Zoo and the DeafNation Expo in Nashville, TN

CREEC recently had the privilege of joining the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community at two marquee events:  Deaf Awareness Day at the Denver Zoo in Colorado and the DeafNation Expo in Nashville, TN. All together more than 2,400 people attended these two signature events.

Deaf Awareness Day at the Denver Zoo – September 22, 2019Two white women. Amy is on the right in a parrot-themed Hawaiian shirt; she has short salt & pepper hair and glasses. CREEC’s interpreter is on the left in a dark blue shirt and white sweater; she has shoulder-length blond hair. They are standing behind a table with a banner that reads “CREEC Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center. We challenge discrimination.”

Kris Shipley of Sprint Accessibility remarked about this year’s day at the Zoo, “Relay Colorado and Sprint Accessibility sponsored and hosted Deaf Awareness Day at the Denver Zoo on September 22, 2019 to support Deaf Awareness Month. It was a smashing hit! There were over 1,000 attendees including all ages of deaf, hard of hearing and hearing guests from the Denver metro area, Colorado Springs and northern Colorado. This was a good way to bring the community together and celebrate Deaf Awareness Month.”

Co-Executive Director Amy Robertson represented CREEC at Deaf Awareness Day at the Denver Zoo and reported, “It was great to see old friends and meet new people in the Deaf community.  It also gave us a chance to introduce our Fast Advocacy for Communication (FAC) program, which folks seemed interested in.”  CREEC looks forward to participating in future Deaf Awareness Days.

DeafNation Expo Nashville, TN – October 12, 2019

Two white women and one white man. Martie is in the middle wearing a blue shirt with the CREEC logo. Our interpreter for the event, Beth Pilkington, is on the left in a blue shirt. On the right in a purple shirt is Mike Helms, VP of Adult Education and Outreach at Bridges in Nashville. Behind the trio is the CREEC booth with red and blue curtains and a sign that says Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center.Director of CREEC’s Accessibility Project, Martie Lafferty joined 74 vendors and more than 1,400 participants at Nashville’s DeafNation Expo on Saturday October 12.  Both vendors and participants came from multiple states including TN, KY, IN, GA, NC, AL, and MS.  Martie and a sign language interpreter staffed CREEC’s booth where many participants stopped by to talk and pick up flyers, magnets, and stickers.  Several participants signed up for CREEC’s newsletter or to discuss a specific communication barrier.  In addition, Martie was a presenter and explained how CREEC challenges discrimination. Martie notes, “I had a terrific time at DeafNation.  This was the best outreach event I’ve ever attended.  It was energizing to talk with so many people who wanted to learn more about their legal rights and CREEC’s services.  I also enjoyed seeing old friends and making new ones.” CREEC’s Fast Advocacy for Communication document was a popular flyer at our DeafNation booth.

Joel Barish CEO of DeafNation with Martie. Joel is a white man in a black t-shirt with the DeafNation logo on it. Martie is a white woman wearing a blue CREEC shirt. DeafNation a national touring trade show for, by and about Deaf people since 2003, seeks to attract a diverse group of attendees who share Deaf culture, needs, language, and information.  You can learn more here.



Coming Soon: CREEC will be at the 2019 National Federation of the Blind of Colorado State Convention – October 31 – November 3, 2019

Partnering with Others: Equity for All of Me. All the Time.

CREEC signed on as a partner in the Equity for All of Me. All the Time. campaign earlier this fall.

A national public education campaign Equity for All of Me. All the Time. was launched by the National LGBTQ Task Force and the National Black Justice Coalition on April 4th in honoGroup of protesters at a rally holding signs that read "Protect All of Me All the Time" and, "Don't Roll Back Our Rights"r of  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights legacy. The campaign seeks to educate federal policymakers about the need for non-discrimination protections to ensure the whole person is protected at all times no matter where they are.

Victoria Kim (pronouns: she, her, hers), field organizer at the National LGBTQ Task Force, explains why this is personal for her by saying, “As a femme identifying woman of color, my womanness and my Asianness are protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 from discrimination based on race and sex, but because I’m queer, I, as a whole person, am not currently protected under federal law and am still at risk for discrimination in multiple ways. As we know, this leaves room for people to use that as a loophole to discriminate against folks in housing, employment, public accommodations, and more.”

group of protesters at a rally. Woman in foreground is talking into a megaphone and holding a sign that reads, "Protect All of Me All the Tim". Women in the background are holding signs that say, "My Failth Does Not Discriminate."


Interested? Want to Learn More?

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!panel of speakers at a conference. Liz Jordan from CREEC is the third from the left

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 ICE litigation, which challenges ICE failures to provide adequate mental health care and discrimination against people with disabilities, including mental health disabilities. It was empowering to share the panel with a community organizer who supports people in detention with mental health disabilities and a NIJC attorney who represents detained people with mental health disabilities. In the afternoon, we worked on developing a road map for better advocacy and practiced developing advocacy plans for immigrants with disabilities using real-world scenarios.

Overall, it was such an invigorating experience sharing our work, learning about the work of others, and putting our heads together about how best to work together moving forward to advance the rights of immigrants with disabilities. This is why we love education at CREEC!

CREEC Receives Grant from Borealis Philanthropy

Grant Will Support Work of CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project (IDAP)

Borealis Philanthropy’s Immigration Litigation Fund has awarded CREEC a $75,000 grant to support IDAP’s work to advance systemic change litigation on behalf of immigrants in detention. In August, 2019, CREEC and others filed a nationwide class action against ICE for failure to monitor detention centers, resulting in unlawful conditions of confinement – inadequate medical/mental health care, improper use of segregation and disability discrimination. Our clients have experienced horrific conditions of confinement resulting in disastrous medical consequences for them, risk of harm, and discrimination on the basis of their disability.

Elizabeth Jordan, Director of the Immigration Detention Accountability Project, states, “The Fraihat v ICE case is going to take a lot of time and resources to bring to a just and humane conclusion. The Borealis grant will help us ensure that our brave clients have their day in court in a way that advances their rights and ensures systemic change to help incarcerated immigrants. We are grateful to Borealis for their support of CREEC and others who are working to make sure that the civil and human rights of all people are met.”

Borealis Philanthropy works with funders to direct resources to people building powerful and thriving communities. Borealis’ Immigration Litigation Fund is a national funder collaborative whose goal is to ensure that the nation’s immigration enforcement system is fair, humane, and prioritizes the civil and human rights of those vulnerable to deportation. This is the second year that IDAP has applied for and received grant funding through the Immigration Litigation Fund.

CREEC mourns the passing and celebrates the life of Judge Wiley Y. Daniel

Image: photo of Black man, balding with a mustache and wire-framed glasses, wearing a suit, a flowered bow tie, and a matching vest.

Photo credit:  David Zalubowski, Special to The Denver Post

Yesterday, we celebrated the life and mourned the passing of Judge Wiley Y. Daniel, a Senior United States District Judge in the District of Colorado. I have been privileged to practice before Judge Daniel from early in my legal career to earlier this year, and each time it was a delightful experience. He was always prepared, knowledgeable, practical, respectful, and funny. He worked hard to put everyone in the courtroom at ease so we could get to the business at hand, for example, carefully establishing out-of-state counsel’s college football and basketball allegiances before proceeding.

In one of my earliest appearances before Judge Daniel, I was arguing for wheelchair access to Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Opposing counsel observed that Red Rocks was built into the side of a steep mountain.  Judge Daniel responded by asking (something to the effect of — unlike the below, we didn’t get the transcript), “That’s all well and good, but why should the burden of that geography fall only on people with disabilities?”  He has, from the get go, understood the fundamental premise of disability civil rights.

In June, 2018, we again appeared before Judge Daniel on the question of wheelchair access to Red Rocks, though this time it was to seek final approval of a class action settlement addressing ticketing and scalping problems that had excluded people with disabilities. Final approval hearings are always upbeat events, as the parties have settled and appear before the judge jointly requesting his blessing of the settlement. Judge Daniel quizzed us on the details of the agreement, indicated his intent to approve it, and then took the opportunity to talk about civil rights and disability rights:

I have had occasion, both as a lawyer, and more importantly as a Judge, to see the evolution of the [ADA]. … [T]here have been strides to make accessibility more an important ingredient of public access to facilities, transportation modes and anything else. So what I’m really saying is, since I have been around a long time, I’m pleased that we’re making strides, but I’m also disappointed that lawsuits have to be filed before anybody, such as the City and County of Denver or other public bodies have to do the right thing, and so I hope that this outcome here can be another further example of how the law can work in a proactive way, but hopefully it also sends a message that even without a lawsuit, I think entities such as City and County of Denver and other public entities have an obligation to, on their own, figure out what should be done to make it easier, rather than harder, for folks with disabilities to have the same access that everybody else has.



[T]hat’s why one of the wonders of being a practicing attorney is [that] practicing attorneys, if they are interested in social justice, if they are interested in being social engineers for justice, can still play a vital role in moving the needle more quickly.


[A]ll of that is what I am uplifting and raising as an illustration [that] we are making progress, but we’re a long way from perfection, and I say that parallels some of the issues that still exist in this country on racial issues, where we have civil rights laws that go back to the mid 60s, but we still have, today, the clear rise of white supremacy, we clearly have nationalists that are running for congress today, running hateful statements and awful things, but they will get votes. And so I think our country has a long way to go to, in effect, liberate us from the battles that have been in existence and will remain in existence, and to the extent that courts can help resolve them, I’m just gratified that I can play some small role in this, and hopefully we will reach a point, at some point, where these laws will become truly an integral part of the fabric of our life.

 Judge Daniel, we are surpassingly gratified that you played such a large role in advancing civil rights in Colorado and improving the fabric of our life. We miss you very much.

Celebration and Inspiration – CREEC’s Annual Event

Success! CREEC’s Annual Event, held on September 19, 2019, was met with resounding success. A beautiful evening greeted all 121 attendees at the History Colorado Center, many of whom enjoyed the spectacular city view from the balcony before heading inside to listen to remarks from Co-Executive Directors, Amy and Tim, and this year’s Challenging Discrimination Award recipient, César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández.

This year’s event attracted teachers, lawyers, nonprofit professionals, volunteers, business people, graduate/law students, activists, parents, kids, and more. Amid the fun of the selfie photo booth with ‘Challenge Discrimination’ and ‘Badass Seeker of Justice’ signs, the ‘I Challenge Discrimination by…’ message board, and the overflowing information table with contributions from more than a dozen area non-profits, conversation flowed, and connections were made. The pervasive feeling seemed to be that together, we would continue to make positive change in our world.

Our event was made possible by the generous support of our 29 sponsors (who collectively gave more than $42,000), our event ticket holders, and CREEC’s numerous clients, ambassadors and advocates. Thank you one and all!

Whether or not you were able to attend CREEC’s event this year, you may enjoy checking out these resources:

Haven’t supported CREEC yet this year, but want to? Given to CREEC already, but want to give again?

  • Text-to-Donate: Text “SupportCREEC” to 44321
  • Give Online
  • Mail your check to 104 Broadway, Ste 400 | Denver, CO 80203
  • Contact director of development, Julie Yates at or 303.757.7901

Making Dreams Reality

Remarks delivered at CREEC’s 2019 Annual Event by Challenging Discrimination award recipient, César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández

Written by César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández

What an immense honor it is to be recognized in this way. I am humbled to celebrate the work that CREEC does and to remember the people who they advocate alongside. Among CREEC’s clients are people like Edelberto García Guerrero, who lives at the Aurora immigration prison, while his wife and children remain in Utah, and Stephenson Teneng, an asylum seeker who was surrounded by barbed wire in the California desert while ICE claimed he was not being punished. To CREEC, their stories are worth telling because they should not be happening.

Man standing behind a podium delivering a speech

César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández accepting the Challenging Discrimination Award. Photo by Nikki Taylor

We live in a moment in which the law is being subverted and traditions shoved aside in the service of suffering. In various parts of the world, including the United States, the lived reality of migration has been turned upside down by the cruelty of the power of policing pressed on law. In the United States, we see the inhumanity of the prison’s steel doors and around-the-clock surveillance rip through conversations about immigration law and policy. Despite the intensity of migration policing, advocates like CREEC are finding inspiration in numbers and strength in the creative potential of imagination. As a teacher, a lawyer, and a writer, to be in their company is to be reminded that words can wound or words can salve, but whatever effect they have, words always matter.

The freedom-dreaming intellectual bell hooks reminds us that “intellectual work is a necessary part of liberation struggle.” Indeed, it must be because in dreams come visions of the impossible. If we can’t imagine the impossible, we can never make it real. Instead, we will be relegated to trying more of the same policy responses that led to large-scale confinement of migrants.

I begin my next book, Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants, with James Baldwin asking us to imagine more than what exists today. In The Fire Next Time, his powerful indictment of white supremacy’s pernicious ability to sit at the base of life in the United States of America, Baldwin wrote: “I know that what I am asking is impossible. But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand.” Rooted in the racial injustices of the mid-twentieth century, Baldwin’s words are no less relevant today. He dares us to imagine what does not exist—even to imagine that for which words do not exist.

In recent years, human bondage has become increasingly commodified. Through hundreds of immigration prisons nationwide, ICE trades with GEO Group and CoreCivic. The federal government sends its money to private prison corporations and in exchange they lock up bodies, hidden behind the narrow windows of facilities from suburban Denver to the Sonoran Desert. Sometimes people are confined for so long that it seems as if the key has been lost. Instead, it is our moral compass that has skewed to the point that policymakers do not ask whether it is right to jail children. Instead, they ask whether children ought to be detained alone or with their parents.

The foundational legal safe harbor of asylum is being pushed to the brink of collapse, increasingly restricting human life to the lucky. This summer a father reached the Río Grande River ready to plead for his family’s safety with U.S. officials, only to be turned away. The family was pushed toward the river’s dangerous waters. When the father and his daughter waded across, neither would emerge alive. The world witnessed images of father and daughter dead on the riverbank, Valeria’s arm tucked inside Óscar’s shirt and wrapped around his neck, searching for the safety that would not come.

Ours is a world where the accident of birth often dictates the fruit that life reaps, where walls and fences, borders, bullets, and wealth often bring excess to our own plates while denying others the basic necessities of life. Ours is a world in which raw power tipped in the poisonous quiver of racism is returning to its traditional place at the head of the table. In moments like this, law too easily becomes a blunt instrument of indignity wrapped inside a whirlpool of myopic platitudes pitting order in a mythical fight against chaos. We must police and imprison, policymakers suggest, because if we do not the entire edifice of our reality will come tumbling upon us.

Law wielded as a weapon forces us to forget that there is also hope in law, that law can be a radical tool of resistance and a great moral compass. But for law to reach its potential, those of us who play with law, those of us trained as its wordsmiths, must do more than hope for justice. We must be willing to dream of one day living in a world where violence is not a feature of life, where premature death is but a tale from the past, and where the clank of steel doors and the isolation of barbed wire are nothing more than a nightmare from which it is possible to awaken.

I am humbled to stand with CREEC and with you as we close our eyes, not to avoid the trauma around us, nor to soften the pain of the blows we receive. We close our eyes to listen to the morning fog evaporate as the first rays of sunshine peer over the horizon, marking a new day. “On the seventh day… Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!… When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed…and they took the city.” In the biblical story of Jericho’s fall, the impossible came to pass because it was right that it be so and because Joshua’s followers dared to dream of a new beginning. Likewise, it is right that we embrace migrants, that CREEC advocates on their behalf, not despite their ordinariness, but because of it, and that collectively we dare to imagine what was previously unthinkable. “Sometimes we have to do the work even though we don’t yet see a glimmer on the horizon that it’s actually going to be possible,” writes Angela Davis.

We are living in a time of nightmares, some more easily forgotten then others. If nightmares can become reality, then why can’t dreams?


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