Civil Rights Organizations Seek Emergency Court Ruling for Immediate COVID-19 Protections for People in Immigration Detention Centers
RIVERSIDE, Calif. –– Early this morning, a group of civil rights legal organizations and their pro bono law firm partners filed an emergency application for a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California seeking a court order requiring that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) take immediate steps to protect people in immigration detention facilities from COVID-19, particularly those at heightened risk. The motion immediately follows ICE’s own admission of the first confirmed positive case of COVID-19 of a person in ICE detention.
The motion argues that if ICE cannot or will not immediately take steps to ensure that medically vulnerable people are protected from COVID-19 – including providing timely access to qualified and necessary healthcare – then the Court should order ICE to release those individuals in the interest of public health.
The preliminary injunction is being requested as part of an existing class action lawsuit, Fraihat v. ICE, on behalf of the nearly 40,000 people held in ICE detention facilities throughout ICE’s detention system. Based on first-hand observations from attorneys serving clients inside detention centers and direct reports from people who are detained, the current conditions are medically dangerous and fail to meet standard public health recommendations for addressing the pandemic.
According to the court filing, ICE has not provided even the most basic public health protections inside detention centers. Its failure to take preventative measures – like reducing crowding to implement social distancing or providing soap and hand sanitizer – places individuals with underlying conditions including heart conditions, diabetes, and other serious health conditions in imminent danger of infection and death. Current ICE protocols do not even consider trying to identify high-risk individuals, much less take the significant steps necessary to reduce the risk of contagion, illness, serious complications, and death.
The threat of COVID-19 compounds the existing inhumane conditions in detention centers already highlighted in the lawsuit. In several instances, detention centers have not provided any information about COVID-19 to detained people, meaning they do not know the symptoms or how to even try to protect themselves from infection.
If the preliminary injunction is granted, ICE would be required to immediately assess medically vulnerable people for COVID-19 risk factors and either immediately implement medically necessary precautions consistent with standards of care, or release them. Additionally, ICE would immediately be required to provide basic protections such as providing ample soap and hand sanitizer, protocols for transporting people to the hospital, and appropriately testing and treating anyone with COVID-19 symptoms.
The motion seeks the release of those in detention if ICE cannot take medically necessary precautions.
Statements outlining observations from immigration detention facilities across the country are available.
The organizations filing for the preliminary injunction and litigating Fraihat v. ICE are Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, Disability Rights Advocates, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Law firms Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP are serving as pro bono co-counsel.
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 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.
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, 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/.
Today CREEC and 13 other organizations sent this letter to DHS, ICE and Geo Group officials at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California (where some Fraihat plaintiffs are located). You’ll find the complete list of participating organizations in the signature section of this letter. All footnotes and links to signatory organizations are at the end of the letter.
March 13, 2020
Re: Requesting Parole for COVID-19 Vulnerable Adelanto Detainees
Dear Field Officers David Marin, Gabriel Valdez, Art Cortez, and Warden James Janecka:
We write on behalf of immigrant legal service providers in Southern California to voice our concern about the urgent humanitarian crisis that COVID-19 presents for our clients and the overall detainee population Adelanto Detention Facility (“ADF”). For the foregoing reasons, we request, among other things, that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) immediately grant humanitarian parole to all vulnerable persons in detention, eventually evaluate all ADF detainees for humanitarian parole, and inform detainees of their right to seek humanitarian release. To that end, we request a meeting with you no later than Thursday, March 19, 2020, to discuss our concerns.
The World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, yet ICE has neither announced nor published concrete plans or protocols for screening, mitigating, and treating the virus at ADF. This silence is especially troublesome considering the heightened risk of uncontrolled transmission among persons living in close quarters, DHS’ own Inspector General and the State of California repeatedly condemning the substandard medical conditions at ADF, and DHS’ March 10, 2020, confirmation to the LA Times that four detainees were under observation for infection.1
As you know, ADF has struggled to control infectious disease outbreaks and routinely resorts to en masse quarantines. COVID-19, however, is unlike any infectious disease that ADF has experienced. Its transmission rate will be significantly higher than that of mumps, measles, or chickenpox, because no so-called “herd immunity” exists against the virus, i.e., there is no population with immunity. For this reason, we have seen COVID-19 rapidly spread within our communities and throughout the world.2 At ADF, detainees face heightened risk of infection due to their overly-crowded and poorly-ventilated living spaces.3
With capacity for 1,940 beds, ADF is the second largest immigrant detention center in the country. Mass-human contact is inevitable here because an individual must share their cell with up to seven other people while being confined to a barrack that holds nearly 100 others.4 Medical professionals unanimously agree: “People residing in close living quarters [like those in ADF] are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and will need special attention both to minimize transmission risk and address their healthcare needs in the context of an outbreak.”5 Simply put, the quarantine methods used for common disease outbreaks at ADF cannot control transmission of COVID-19.
Additionally, ADF’s reoccurring failure to provide adequate medical care significantly increases the likelihood that a COVID-19 outbreak will be fatal. DHS’ own Inspector General confirmed as much, finding “detainees do not have timely access to proper medical care,” and that ADF’s medical practices fall even below ICE’s own minimum standards.6 ICE has yet to cure these deficiencies and is most certainly in no position to handle the imminent and overwhelming medical crisis that COVID-19 brings.7
The risks of continued detention at ADF are potentially fatal for persons who are elderly, immuno-compromised, or who have long-term health conditions. This risk, however, is not limited to persons with diagnosed health conditions; it impacts all detainees by virtue of their exposure to untreated mold that pervades the facility and ADF’s indifferent healthcare culture.8 Simply put, persons detained at ADF are sitting ducks for a fatal COVID-19 infection.
The Agency’s March 10, 2020, statement given to Congressional Quarterly Roll Call in response to growing community concerns does nothing to quell our well-founded fears and is further proof that ICE cannot handle an outbreak at ADF.9 The new “screening guidance” for incoming detainees ignores the risk of infection from current detainees and officers. Even more troubling, the plan to house all infected detainees collectively in an airborne infection isolation room outright ignores that treatment for COVID-19 requires individuals be housed separately under the care of licensed medical professionals equipped to treat COVID-19.
At this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, there are no swift and effective remedial measures that could prevent or mitigate a potentially-fatal COVID-19 outbreak at ADF.10 Fortunately, ICE has wide discretion to release detainees and ought to exercise its authority given these urgent humanitarian circumstances. ICE may release persons under its parole authority. See INA § 236(a)(2)(B); 8 C.F.R. § 212.5(b)(1)–(2) (providing release of persons with “serious medical conditions in which continued detention would not be appropriate,” and pregnant women). Additionally, there is limited risk to ICE when paroling individuals from its custody through its alternatives to detention program, which provides for GPS ankle-monitors or regular home site visits and check-ins with deportation officers. This response would remove detainees from a dangerous environment through a program with “empirically demonstrated effectiveness … at meeting the government’s interest in ensuring future appearances.” Hernandez v. Sessions, 872 F.3d 976, 991 (9th Cir. 2017).
It is beyond dispute that ADF’s medical facilities, treatment resources, and employees are ill- equipped to respond to this rapidly evolving pandemic. ICE is wholly responsible for protecting the health and wellbeing of the nearly 2,000 people detained at ADF. It is critical that you take immediate measures to protect those in your care from COVID-19. We therefore strongly urge you to exercise your discretionary authority and take the following proactive and protective measures:
- Immediately grant humanitarian parole and release the most vulnerable detainee population, including individuals who are fifty years or older, who have medical conditions, or who are immuno-compromised.11 Continued confinement of this particularly vulnerable group is a gross violation of their civil rights and liberties and exposes them to a government-created danger. ICE can easily identify such individuals through its detainee intake form and medical records, and by having detainees self-identify. The de minimus administrative burden of identifying impacted people surely does not outweigh the importance of protecting high-risk detainees from this fatal infection.
- Evaluate the remaining detainee population for humanitarian release soon thereafter. In the event of an outbreak, ADF is institutionally and physically incapable of safely housing hundreds of detainees for the reasons described above. After releasing the most vulnerable detainees from ADF, ICE should then evaluate remaining persons for immediate release. Their continued detention will guarantee a widespread and uncontrollable outbreak and therefore demands swift, preventative action.
- Inform detainees of their right to seek humanitarian release. Provide detainees with up-to-date information about COVID-19 so persons can self-identify and understand the health risks of continued detention. This is crucial, as many detainees have relevant medical histories or conditions not known to ICE, such as chronic smokers, persons with prior respiratory conditions, and individuals with other undiagnosed conditions.
- Ensure any detainee who remains in the facility, whether under medical quarantine or not, has ongoing access to confidential communication with prospective and current counsel. Any person who remains at ADF during the pandemic—whether in medical quarantine or not—must have ongoing access to confidential communication with their attorneys, prospective attorneys, and the Legal Orientation Program. This communication should remain in-person to the fullest extent possible and, where not possible, should be facilitated through confidential phone and televideo calls at no cost to the person in detention.
- Ensure detainees have access to their hearings in immigration court and promptly notify the court in the event a detainee’s medical status prevents their appearance. If EOIR continues to remain open, detainees must have full access to the courts with the option of making in-person appearances. ICE must provide adequate medical safeguards and accommodations to ensure that no one is forced to choose between their health or an in-person court appearance.
Given the dangers unique to ADF, the signatories to this letter request a meeting with ADF and ICE personnel to discuss our concerns and recommendations. The rapidly expanding health crisis requires that this meeting be scheduled no later than Thursday, March 19, 2020.
Al Otro Lado
Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles
Carecen Los Angeles
Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center
Disability Rights California
Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project
Human Rights First
Immigrant Defenders Law Center
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
National Lawyers Guild
Public Law Center
UCI Law Immigrant Rights Clinic
UCLA Criminal Justice Program
(1) See Brittny Mejia, ICE says no confirmed coronavirus among detainees, but four meet criteria for testing, LA TIMES (Mar. 10, 2020), https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-03-10/ice-says-no-detainees- have- coronavirus-four-being-tested; Achieving A Fair and Effective COVID-19 Response: An Open Letter to Vice- President Mike Pence, and Other Federal, State and Local Leaders from Public Health and Legal Experts in the United States (Mar. 2, 2020), available at https://law.yale.edu/sites/default/files/area/center/ghjp/documents/final_covid- 19_letter_from_public_health_and_legal_experts.pdf; OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GEN., MANAGEMENT ALERT – ISSUES REQUIRING ATTENTION AT THE ADELANTO ICE PROCESSING CENTER IN ADELANTO, CALIFORNIA 7 (Sept. 27, 2018), available at https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/Mga/2018/oig-18-86-sep18.pdf; OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GEN., CONCERNS ABOUT ICE DETAINEE TREATMENT AND CARE AT FOUR DETENTION FACILITIES 8 (June 3, 2019), available at https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2019-06/OIG-19-47-Jun19.pdf.
(2) Letter from Rep. Mark Takano, Member of Congress, to Matthew Albence, ICE Acting Director (Sept. 12, 2019), available at https://takano.house.gov/newsroom/press-releases/rep-takano-raises-concerns-and-requests- information-from-ice-acting-director-following-visit-to-adelanto-ice-detention-center.
(3) Interim U.S. Guidance for Risk Assessment and Public Health Management of Healthcare Personnel with Potential Exposure in a Healthcare Setting to Patients with Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), CDC (Mar. 7, 2020), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/guidance-risk-assesment-hcp.html (defining “close contact” as being within approximately six feet of a person with COVID-19 for a “prolonged period,” e.g., sitting in a healthcare waiting room); People at Risk for Serious Illness from COVID-19, CDC (last updated Mar. 9, 2020), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-complications.html; Marc F. Stern, Washington Ass’n of Sheriffs & Pol. Chiefs, Washington State Jails Coronavirus Management Suggestions in 3 “Buckets” (Mar. 5, 2020); Achieving A Fair and Effective COVID-19 Response: An Open Letter to Vice-President Mike Pence, and Other Federal, State and Local Leaders from Public Health and Legal Experts in the United States, supra note 1.
(4) CAL. DEP’T OF JUSTICE, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GEN., IMMIGRATION DETENTION IN CALIFORNIA 22 (Feb.2019), available at https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/publications/immigration-detention-2019.pdf.
(5) Achieving A Fair and Effective COVID-19 Response: An Open Letter to Vice-President Mike Pence, and Other Federal, State and Local Leaders from Public Health and Legal Experts in the United States, supra note 1, at 2.
(6) MANAGEMENT ALERT – ISSUES REQUIRING ATTENTION AT THE ADELANTO ICE PROCESSING CENTER IN ADELANTO, CALIFORNIA, supra note 1, at 7.
(7) We acknowledge that ICE undertook the “remedial measure” of power washing and repainting a detainee shower, but that and similar actions fall woefully short of the remedial measures required to bring ADF’s facilities into compliance with minimum health and safety conditions. CONCERNS ABOUT ICE DETAINEE TREATMENT AND CARE AT FOUR DETENTION FACILITIES, supra note 1, at 13; Letter from Rep. Mark Takano, Member of Congress, to Matthew Albence, supra note 2 (noting that ADF employees simply repainted over moldy areas without taking any steps to mitigate future growth).
(8) CONCERNS ABOUT ICE DETAINEE TREATMENT AND CARE AT FOUR DETENTION FACILITIES, supra note 1, at 8.
(9) Featured Issue: 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), ALIA (Mar. 12, 2020) (for DHS’ response relevant questioning from a CQ Roll Call reporter, see fifth link beneath the heading “Government Announcements and Alerts”).
(10) Amanda Holpuch, Coronavirus inevitable in prison-like US immigration centers, doctors say, THE GUARDIAN (Mar. 11, 2020) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/11/coronavirus-outbreak-us-immigration- centers. In fact, ADF’s woefully deficient medical facilities and healthcare treatment options are the subject of a pending federal class action lawsuit. See Fraihat v. U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement, 5:19-cv-01546 (C.D. Cal.).
(11) Marc F. Stern, supra note 3, at 3 (recommending that jails “downsize” their inmate population by first considering whether there are “people you can release on their own recognizance? Do you have a list (who do you release if you need to downsize by 5% or 10% etc.)?” and then “Are there alternatives to arrest for certain crimes, or, in dire situations, are there crimes for which your patrol division does will not arrest?”)
Links to all signing organizations:
Al Otro Lado, Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles, Carecen Los Angeles, Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, Disability Rights California, Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, Human Rights First, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, National Lawyers Guild, Public Counsel, Public Law Center, UCI Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, UCLA Criminal Justice Program
Immigrant Advocacy Groups File Civil Rights Complaint Against Constitutional & Disability Rights Violations
Freedom for Immigrants (FFI), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention, and Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) have filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) on behalf of Mr. Anderson Avisai Gutierrez, a 27-year-old Guatemalan asylum seeker detained at the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana. Despite an attempt to end his own life and severe mental health disabilities, Mr. Gutierrez has been placed in solitary confinement for over eight months, where his mental health has further deteriorated.
His continued confinement is in violation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) own standards, his constitutional rights, and disability law.
“Sometimes you miss taking a shower. You don’t eat, because suddenly they forget about you. They forget to wash your clothes. The light is on day and night. 24 hours a day, every day. You are locked up like an animal on exhibition, since everyone that passes can see you,” wrote Gutierrez, in a letter about his time in solitary confinement. “[The prison] is missing a lot of things for the wellness of human beings.”
“Throughout our weeks of visitation, Mr. Gutierrez has always been courteous and easily engaged. However, he also has appeared to me to be extremely distressed with his prolonged detention and filled with such despair. He has been in detention now for 13 months, eight of them in solitary confinement,” said Jennifer Savage, a volunteer with Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention. “He has not received the mental health follow-up he has required.”
“Prolonged solitary confinement is tantamount to torture,” said Sofia Casini, southern regional coordinator at Freedom for Immigrants. “ICE is well aware of the link between solitary confinement and suicide, especially for those struggling with mental health. The fact that ICE ignored every warning sign leading up to an attempt at ending his life and continued to imprison and isolate Mr. Gutierrez after is unacceptable. If he had, in fact, killed himself, it would have been tantamount to murder. This shows the lengths ICE, as well as the private companies who benefit from this system of abuse, will go to imprison rather than releasing people to their families and community who are ready to provide appropriate care.”
“The persistent inhumane treatment of Mr. Gutierrez is symptomatic of a system designed to strip people of their humanity,” said Maia Fleischman, law fellow at the SPLC. “ICE knowingly inflicted a severe, irreparable toll on Mr. Gutierrez’s mental health by caging him in solitary confinement for over eight months,” continued Fleischman. “The harmful effects of the denial of adequate treatment and accommodations were compounded each day ICE refused to release him to the point where he attempted to end his life. We call on ICE to release Mr. Gutierrez without further delay, so that he can be reunited with his family and have a chance to heal from this horrific experience.”
“Prolonged solitary confinement amounts to inhuman treatment and it’s a serious violation of Mr. Gutierrez’s rights under federal disability laws,” said Pilar Gonzalez Morales, senior staff attorney at CREEC. “Mr. Gutierrez has the right to receive accommodations for his multiple disabilities, but instead ICE and its subcontractors have chosen to place him in solitary confinement because of those disabilities. ICE’s failure to provide accommodations and to place him in a less restrictive environment are reasons enough to grant humanitarian parole so that he can receive appropriate, community-based care that he desperately needs.”
Advocates request he be granted immediate release on humanitarian parole so that he may receive appropriate medical and mental health care in an external, community-based setting, and that ICE investigate the abusive solitary confinement practices in place at these facilities.
Find a link to the full complaint below:
Settlement with MIT Follows Similar Agreement with Harvard University to Caption Online Content
Agreements Represent the Most Comprehensive Set of Online Accessibility Requirements
BOSTON—The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) announced today a landmark settlement with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that institutes a series of new guidelines to make the university’s website and online resources accessible for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. The settlement follows a similar agreement with Harvard University in November 2019, which together represent the most comprehensive set of online accessibility requirements in higher education and provide a new model for ensuring worldwide online and digital accessibility in academia and business for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
MIT, one of the most celebrated academic research institutes in the world, has agreed to provide industry standard captioning for publicly-available online content, including video and audio content posted on MIT.edu as well as MIT’s YouTube, Vimeo, and Soundcloud pages, certain live-streaming events and online courses such as Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), MITx and MIT OpenCourseWare.
The terms of the settlement are included within a consent decree, which can be enforced by the court. The court must approve the consent decree before it may become effective.
MIT must also implement a public process to manage these requests. MIT is also required to submit reports every six months beginning in June 2020 to NAD and the Disability Law Center with information about the number of requests received, among other details.
This settlement was reached four years after this litigation began in 2015, when it was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Massachusetts as a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit was prompted by the recognition that, notwithstanding the description of MIT’s online resources as “open and available to the world,” many of its videos and audio recordings lacked captions or used inaccurate captions. MIT had no published policies in place to ensure these learning tools were accessible to people who are deaf and hard of hearing. In the United States alone, there are approximately 50 million deaf and hard of hearing people.
During the litigation, MIT filed a motion to dismiss the case. In response the court ruled that federal laws prohibiting disability discrimination covered MIT’s online content.
The named plaintiffs in this class action lawsuit, NAD, C. Wayne Dore, Christy Smith and Lee Nettles, were represented by Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, the Disability Law Center, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, and also the NAD.
“The settlements with MIT and Harvard usher in a new era of accessible online learning in higher education. The civil rights mandate is clear – all colleges and universities must ensure that the video and audio content on their websites are accessible through quality captioning.” said Howard A. Rosenblum, Chief Executive Officer, National Association of the Deaf.
“Providing equal access through new and evolving technologies is at the core of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This announcement opens up a huge new world of learning for the tens of millions of people who were previously unable to access MIT’s wealth of online educational resources,” said Arlene B. Mayerson, Directing Attorney at the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund.
“These agreements with MIT and Harvard are ground-breaking and historic, opening new doorways in learning for deaf and hard-of-hearing students and professionals and setting a new standard for civil rights enforcement for accessibility in online learning. We urge other institutions that share their research, case studies, and course work to the public to follow this precedent to ensure their content is accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people, worldwide,” said Joseph M. Sellers who heads the civil rights practice at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.
“There’s no excuse for any institution to shortchange the millions of people who are deaf and hard of hearing. We cannot pick and choose what types of accessibility we want to provide—it’s a fundamental right that everyone deserves. We’re pleased the agreement ensures all learners will be treated equally,” said Amy F. Robertson, Co-Executive Director of the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center.
“These agreements represent the most comprehensive framework for ensuring that higher education institutions make their online and digital resources available for the deaf and hard of hearing. Nobody should be denied the opportunity to an education because of a disability, and the digital doors of MIT are now open for everyone,” said Marlene Sallo, Executive Director of the Disability Law Center.
Interested in learning more?
The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) and Justice Catalyst Law are joining forces to combat housing discrimination in a new initiative that focuses on housing providers who discriminate against people participating in medication assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid and other drug addiction disorders. This type of discrimination causes individuals with addiction disorders to have difficulty obtaining and maintaining housing, and vastly complicates their recovery.
As a first step, we’re investigating the extent of the issue.
“We were troubled to learn that housing providers in the recovery community might be discriminating against people in medication assisted treatment,” says Brian Shearer, Legal Director of Justice Catalyst Law. “Evidence shows that MAT works, but housing discrimination might deter people from using it, further exacerbating the opioid crisis at a time when supporting any and all tools for treatment should be of paramount importance.”
CREEC’s breadth of experience successfully challenging disability discrimination in multiple settings including housing puts us in an excellent position to help investigate a problem we fear many face at a time when opioid abuse continues to be a prevalent issue in our society. The Director of CREEC’s Accessibility Project, Martie Lafferty states, ”People with opioid addiction who participate in MAT as part of their recovery deserve the same access to housing as anyone else. Housing providers should serve these individuals on an equal basis. It’s the right thing to do and it’s the law. CREEC is excited to partner with Justice Catalyst Law on this critical issue and hope this will be the first of many opportunities we have to work together.”
To learn more about our investigation into housing discrimination against people participating in MAT and to see if you may be able to help with the investigation, follow this link.
Please share the information in the link above with anyone who may have experienced housing discrimination because of their use of MAT.
All too frequently we hear news of abhorrent actions taken against immigrants seeking refuge in our country: Bans on people because of their religion or country of origin. Unnecessary obstacles in asylum cases. Inhumane treatment of immigrants at our borders. Brutal treatment and neglect of immigrants who are imprisoned in ICE’s jails. Expansion of private prisons to detain immigrants despite the companies’ abysmal records of human rights violations. The barrage is constant and the conditions our fellow human beings are living in are dire.
This is why CREEC and others are determined to fight – and win – this battle.
While we can’t possibly name all the work being done, here you will find an update on some recent efforts being made, some battles being won, and steps being taken toward future wins.
In November, ICE filed a motion to dismiss the Fraihat case brought by CREEC and co-counsel. On February 24, CREEC and co-counsel will argue in court that our case should continue. This nationwide class action lawsuit challenges the federal government’s failure to ensure detained immigrants receive appropriate medical and mental health care, its punitive use of segregation in violation of the U.S. Constitution, and its failure to ensure that detained immigrants with disabilities are provided accommodations and do not face discrimination. Our clients have experienced undeniable neglect and discrimination and the progress being made should result in much needed systemic change of a broken and unlawful system.
On January 15, 2020, NPR investigative reporter, Tom Dreisbach, published a piece (“Despite Findings of ‘Negligent’ Care, ICE to Expand Troubled Calif. Detention Center”) summarizing recent events and their backstories, and bringing to light a previously confidential report detailing human rights abuses at the Adelanto detention center. This recently released report even included withering criticism of the facility from internal government watchdogs. The work of CREEC and others at Adelanto is highlighted in Dreisbach’s article. Investigative journalism, coupled with firsthand reports from directly impacted people, reports from immigration advocates, and damning governmental documents obtained through FOIA and other legal means, continue to build the case against our current immigration detention system and keep this issue on the forefront of human rights advocacy work.
On October 11, 2019, the state of California took the historic step of banning ICE from establishing new contracts with private, for-profit companies to run federal immigration prisons in California. This law came into being as a result of persistent pressure from a number of immigration advocacy groups including one of the organizational plaintiffs in the Fraihat case and longstanding CREEC partner, Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ICIJ). The tireless work of ICIJ and so many other organizations across the country aimed at destroying the evils of the current immigration system will contribute to systemic and lasting change.
Clearly, work is also needed at the individual level and to help address the immediate needs many in our immigrant community face on a daily basis. Although they have decades of experience representing immigrants in detention, in January, our allies at the Rocky Mountain Immigration Advocacy Network (RMIAN) marked one year of participating in the Denver Immigrant Legal Services Fund (DILSF), which is a pilot universal representation model, similar to the structure adopted by public defenders, providing merits-blind representation for Denver residents impacted by federal immigration enforcement. Director of CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project (IDAP), Liz Jordan, also represents several individual clients in Colorado and elsewhere who are experiencing legal issues at the intersection of disability and immigration law. Liz and others at CREEC continue to serve as advisors to lawyers representing immigrants who also have disabilities. In response to CREEC’s increased case-load made possible in part by recent grant funding, CREEC hired Senior Staff Attorney Pilar Gonzalez Morales to help.
The humanitarian crisis at our southern border is especially dire and there are a number of organizations there to assist. Ally and Fraihat organizational plaintiff Al Otro Lado provides desperately needed legal assistance to asylum seekers at the border and technical assistance to other attorneys working on behalf of people who are immigrants. IDAP recently supported Texas Civil Rights Project, an advocacy and litigation group fighting for the rights of people living in Texas, on a case involving a Deaf woman and her family stuck in the Remain In Mexico program and experiencing discrimination and harm as a result.
At the border and across the nation, much is being done and still there is much more to do. In a crisis as massive and as complex as that facing immigrants in our country and across the globe, it is important to celebrate, even if briefly, victories and progress before we return to the remaining issues and to the people who are suffering. We hope you will join CREEC in celebrating the effort and success highlighted here and then, with us, turn again to work that lies ahead.
There are a lot of worthy organizations working on immigration that rely on philanthropic support. We hope you’ll consider CREEC when you decide to support the vital immigration work being done.
Following a stroke, 94-year old Mr. Sam from Mississippi needed some transition time in a rehabilitation center. Imagine his family’s frustration when application after application was rejected…because the rehab facilities were not willing to provide a sign language interpreter for Mr. Sam who is Deaf and uses American Sign Language (ASL). “It was unreal”, said Mr. Sam’s son, Craig Samuels, “we even had a verbal ‘yes’ from one facility only to have that’ yes’ turn into a ‘no’ when they learned that their offer of a whiteboard would not adequately serve my dad’s post-stroke communication needs. It was a nightmare.”
And, as the Samuels family learned, their experience isn’t uncommon.
Luckily the Samuels family has a network of support that helped them get on the right track and, ultimately, in touch with CREEC. When Mr. Sam went to the Emergency Room after his stroke, he was not initially provided with adequate interpretation. Mr. Sam’s stroke worsened his hearing condition, rendering his hearing aid completely ineffective even for short, simple communications. In addition, the left side of Mr. Sam’s body and his vision were impacted, making simple written whiteboard communication and video ASL interpretation also ineffective. As a result, Mr. Sam could not communicate at all with his health care providers nor they with him without in-person ASL interpretation. A good friend of the Samuels family who is also a Deaf advocate, assured them that Mr. Sam is guaranteed effective communication by law. With his support, they pushed and soon received excellent services for the rest of Mr. Sam’s stay at the hospital.
When it was time to take the next step to a rehab facility, Mr. Sam and his family knew exactly where they wanted him to go, “It’s an excellent center – clean, pleasant, safe, and with a good reputation,” said Theresa Samuels, Mr. Sam’s daughter-in-law. After an initial verbal approval, however, Mr. Sam was denied admission once his interpretation needs were known. Mr. Sam’s case worker at the hospital put together a list of other rehab center options for the family.
The Samuels family, with the help of hospital and social case workers, tried them all. And Mr. Sam was denied admission at all of them.
Deaf Connect of the Mid-South, the interpretation service working with Mr. Sam at the hospital, put the Samuels family in touch with Martie Lafferty. Martie, CREEC’s Accessibility Project Director, spoke with the Samuels family and felt that CREEC could help by using its new Fast Advocacy for Communication (FAC) system. Within two days, Martie had sent a personalized FAC letter to Mr. Sam’s rehabilitation center of choice and, shortly thereafter, the center admitted Mr. Sam with six hours of in-person ASL interpretation provided per day. “Our FAC letters resolve most situations where a medical facility or other business is refusing to provide interpreters. I think that’s because we take an educational approach in these letters and take the time to explain the client’s specific situation and the ADA’s requirements. We also make clear that we’re available to talk with the business about the issue. In this situation, the rehabilitation center quickly reached out to talk with me about Mr. Sam’s communication needs and agreed to provide interpreters during his stay at their facility. We also had a follow up conversation about their specific plans for providing effective communication to Mr. Sam. During these conversations, they noted they had never previously served a Deaf individual but hoped to make the most of this opportunity and to be able to serve other Deaf people in the future. I will follow up with the facility to further encourage them to provide effective communication to other Deaf people in the future.”
“The initial application and denial process was frustrating and demoralizing. We were so worried that we simply wouldn’t be able to get my dad the care he needed,” said Craig, “Martie appeared like an angel and once the FAC process was set in motion, the previous and seemingly insurmountable barriers were removed.” And, with the exception of some scheduling complications at the rehab center, Mr. Sam got the communication and, subsequently, the care that he needed at the rehab center of his choice.
“It was important to us to share our story,” said Theresa. “We’re thankful to Martie and CREEC for helping our family. We also hope that in sharing our experience, we can offer hope and direction for others being denied the accommodations they are guaranteed under the ADA. We want to be part of a broader solution to this systemic problem and felt that sharing both our frustration and our ultimate success would be a step in the right direction.”
Do you or someone you know need help obtaining effective communication in a medical setting?
Learn more about CREEC’s Fast Advocacy for Communication (FAC) Program.
Email us directly at mailto:FAC@creeclaw.org
Are you interested in helping CREEC continue to help people obtain effective communication at medical facilities? Donor support allows us to implement initiatives like FAC.
“Having the chance to extern at CREEC put the sensationalized world of docudrama crime and the legal system in a new light for me,” says Sophia Peterson Swarthmore College ‘23, “It made it all real, made the people real. And it also made me better understand the systemic nature of the problems as well as the many ways different people are fighting hard to address the problems.”
For one week this January, CREEC had the honor of hosting two students from Swarthmore who were participating in the college’s Extern Program. This relatively short January externship experience has a job-shadowing focus. “CREEC has participated in this program since 2017,” says Co-executive Director Amy Robertson and Swarthmore alumna ’83, “and one of the best things about it is the multi-faceted exposure students get to various careers.” CREEC was fortunate to host Marième Diop, Swarthmore ’18, during an extended externship in 2017, and even more fortunate when she returned as a paralegal after graduation.
Here at CREEC we try to offer as many different opportunities as possible to our externs, providing both breadth and depth to the experience. This year externs Sophia Peterson ‘23 and Shaurya Bhaskar ’22 participated in myriad facets of the civil rights legal and advocacy world including, attending an Emotional Support Animal Stakeholder Meeting relating to pending legislation at which Amy Robertson contributed information about ADA considerations; a day at Denver’s Federal Courthouse where they spoke with Magistrate Judge Neureiter and saw several court proceedings including charging, sentencing and some civil cases; saw Boulder civil rights and criminal defense attorney Gail Johnson in action questioning witnesses at a post-trial conviction hearing and then met with Gail and her associates to discuss the hearing and their careers; got some hands-on experience with IDAP Director Liz Jordan, reviewing recently received FOIA documents for information that may be helpful in an ongoing case; and learned from Liz and Co-executive Director Tim Fox about the details of the Fraihat v ICE case including discussing the original filing, ICE’s motion to dismiss, and CREEC and co-counsel’s upcoming response to that motion. They also spent time with CREEC’s Director of Development and Communications, Julie Yates, learning about fundraising and nonprofit management. It was truly a busy week!
Shaurya Bhaskar ’22 says of his time at CREEC,“It opened my eyes to worlds I had before known very little about and has forever changed the way I view my surroundings. One small example, I never before paid attention to accessibility features of a sidewalk. Now I see almost nothing else when I walk the city streets. I feel grateful for my experience at CREEC and for the new way of seeing and thinking it has offered to me. I hope to utilize these experiences wherever I find myself in the future.”
Donor support allows CREEC to provide extern experiences to today’s students and tomorrow’s change makers.
We are excited to announce the opening of CREEC’s Los Angeles office and the appointment of Pilar Gonzalez Morales as our new Senior Staff Attorney!
Pilar focuses on civil rights issues at the intersection of disability and immigration rights and comes to CREEC with a wealth of experience. Prior to joining CREEC, Pilar worked at Disability Rights California where she represented children and adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities as well as people with disabilities held in immigration detention. Pilar strongly advocates for the use of an intersectional framework within the disability rights movement to ensure that people of color, LGBTQI, immigrants and other often underserved communities benefit from and lead the fight for the civil rights of all people with disabilities. She also worked for four years at Arias and Munoz (currently Dentons Munoz) in Costa Rica where she enjoyed many outdoor activities and was part of the Litigation and Mediation team. Pilar says about her new position, “I’m incredibly pleased to be joining CREEC because of its commitment to enforcing civil rights laws across the nation, including for some of the most underserved communities. CREEC’s work at the intersection of disability and immigration issues is not only innovative, it also ensures that the disability rights community reflects the needs of all people with disabilities across the country.”
Pilar has a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley and a J.D. from Duke University. Outside of work Pilar spends a great deal of time hanging out with her three nephews, watching futbol, and reading.
We are thrilled to have Pilar as part of the team and are confident that her specific talents, expertise, and passion for civil rights and equity are just what CREEC needs at this time.
CREEC and 17 other civil rights organizations file amicus brief supporting the right to effective communication
The day after Christmas, 2013, Stanley Cropp was wrongfully arrested (based on his confused response to police) and taken to the Larimer County Jail. There it was determined he could be released on bond, but would have to sign the legal documents necessary to make that happen. Because he has Alzheimer’s, he did not understand the documents, so his wife, Catherine Cropp, asked to sit with him and explain them.
Larimer County said no. Its policy was to require family members to meet with detainees in a “non-contact” booth, separated by a glass partition, and requiring the conversation to take place through a telephone. Mrs. Cropp explained that, based on her experience with Mr. Cropp’s condition, this would not permit him to understand what he needed to sign. The County was adamant: absolutely no accommodation would be made for Mr. Cropp’s disability. This occurred despite the fact that the County knew Mr. Cropp could not understand its complex legal paperwork without assistance, and despite the fact that the County regularly permitted attorneys to meet directly with detainees, no glass partition required.
The Cropps challenged Larimer County’s refusal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which requires public entities such as Larimer County to provide effective communication with disabled people and – crucially – to defer to the requests of such individuals concerning the mode of communication. The Cropps lost before the district court, and that decision was affirmed by the Tenth Circuit last month in a 2-1 decision. The majority incorrectly deferred to the County in its refusal to make accommodations, and required the Cropps to prove that the existing policy – the non-contact booth – was “wholly ineffective,” rather than requiring the County to prove it was equally effective. This decision is inconsistent with the ADA.
Judge Carlos Lucero published a thorough and well-reasoned dissenting opinion, observing that “[b]ased on the information about Mr. Cropp’s disability that Mrs. Cropp provided, harm to Mr. Cropp’s ADA … rights without accommodation was not just ‘substantially likely,’ it was virtually certain.”*
The Cropps have petitioned the Tenth Circuit to review the case with all eleven active judges on that court weighing in. Today, CREEC along with 17 other public interest organizations** filed an amicus brief supporting that full-court review. As we told the Court in our brief,
Many of the Amici were founded by, are staffed by, represent, and/or provide services to individuals with communications disabilities: people who are deaf, blind, or nonspeaking, or have intellectual disabilities or mental illness. Amici thus have both deep expertise in the interpretation and application of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s guarantee of effective communication, and a justifiable concern that the majority’s decision here may undermine that guarantee. Amici urge that the right to effective communication will be secured only through en banc review and adoption of Judge Lucero’s well-reasoned dissent.
CREEC believes the Cropps have a guaranteed right to the equal and effective communication they reasonably requested in 2013 and are outraged by the district court’s and Tenth Circuit’s unjust interpretation of the law. We wholeheartedly support the Cropps’ long, brave fight to stand up for this right in the belief that those who come after them deserve better treatment than they received six years ago.
You can read the amicus brief here.
Would you like to support CREEC’s work? Please give a contribution to CREEC today!
* Cropp v. Larimer Cty., Colo., 941 F.3d 1237, 1243 (10th Cir. 2019) (Lucero, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).
** AdvocacyDenver; American Civil Liberties Union; American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado; The Arc of the United States; Autistic Self Advocacy Network; Brooklyn Law School’s Disability and Civil Rights Clinic; Center for Public Representation; Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition; CommunicationFIRST; Disability Law Colorado; Disability Rights Advocates; Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund; Equip for Equality; Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf Communities; National Association of the Deaf; National Disability Rights Network; and National Federation of the Blind.
Recent CREECblog Posts
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- CREEC and 13 Others Send COVID-19 Letter in Support of Immigrants in Detention in Adelanto, CA
- Immigrant Advocacy Groups File Civil Rights Complaint Against Constitutional & Disability Rights Violations
- Landmark Agreements Establish New Model for Online Accessibility in Higher Education and Business
- CREEC and Justice Catalyst Law Launch Housing Discrimination Initiative
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