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Advocacy groups file suit to block Trump’s new ‘public charge’ immigration rule

Several advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Friday to block the Trump administration’s recently finalized “public charge” rule, which would make it harder for legal immigrants to stay in the country.

The National Immigration Law Center, Western Center on Law and Poverty, National Health Law Program and Asian Americans Advancing Justice filed the complaint in a California federal court.

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PRESS RELEASE – Western Center & Partners File Lawsuit to Stop Trump Administration “Public Charge” Rule

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Trump “Public Charge” Regulation Unlawful, Lawsuit Claims

Nonprofits aim to block policy targeting millions of families of color

 

SAN FRANCISCO — Nonprofits serving immigrant communities and advocates for racial equity, health, children, farmworkers, and working families today filed suit to block implementation of the Trump administration’s “public charge” regulation, which threatens millions of immigrant families — disproportionally families of color. La Clínica de la Raza et al. v. Trump et al., filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, asks the court to declare the regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unlawful and unconstitutional. DHS finalized the regulation on August 14, 2019.

“The public charge regulation is an attack on the culturally diverse families we serve, threatening their health and their very lives,” said Jane Garcia, chief executive officer of La Clínica de La Raza. “We will stand with our patients and their families and fight this.”

In addition to La Clínica de la Raza, the suit was brought by African Communities Together, the California Primary Care Association, the Central American Resource Center, the Council on American Islamic Relations – California, Farmworker Justice, the Korean Resource Center, the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, and Maternal and Child Health Access. The plaintiffs are represented by the National Immigration Law Center, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, the National Health Law Program and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

The complaint argues that the regulation was motivated by racial bias against nonwhite immigrants and asks the court to strike it down as a violation of Equal Protection under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. As indicators of a motivating racial animus, the complaint cites the administration’s acknowledgement that the policy will have a disparate impact on families of color, President Donald Trump’s own racist statements, and his administration’s other racially-biased policies.

“Donald Trump pushed to execute innocent Black men wrongly accused of murder. He called the white supremacists in Charlottesville ‘very fine people.’ He slurred Black immigrants from Haiti and Nigeria. And he froze or cancelled protected status for immigrants from majority-Black countries. Donald Trump’s words and his actions have consistently targeted Black families,” said Amaha Kassa, founder and executive director of African Communities Together. “When Ken Cuccinelli, the man who signed this regulation, goes on the radio and says ‘not everyone has the right to be an American,’ Black families know exactly who he’s talking about.”

“This rule change is a direct attack on communities of color and their families, and furthers this administration’s desire to make this country work primarily for the wealthy and white. Our immigration system cannot be based on the racial animosities of this administration, or whether or not people are wealthy,” said Antionette Dozier, senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

“This expansion of the rule is part and parcel of the administration’s crusade to instill fear in immigrant communities of color,” said Laboni Hoq, litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice – LA). “By including criteria such as English language proficiency as a negative factor for obtaining permanent residency, the administration is telling immigrants that they are not welcome here. This is unacceptable. Xenophobia has no place in our country, let alone our laws.”

Plaintiffs also assert that the regulation violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it is contrary to law and arbitrary and capricious. The complaint also argues that the regulation is invalid because the official who approved its publication, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, was appointed in violation of the Constitution’s Appointments Clause and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

More than 260,000 public comments were submitted on the draft regulation last fall, the vast majority in opposition. The regulation targets programs that serve whole families — Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Section 8 housing assistance — meaning its impact will extend well beyond immigrants directly affected. As a result, experts warn, the regulation will result in increases in hunger, unmet health and housing needs, and poverty. Because affected immigrants are overwhelmingly immigrants of color, the rule is also expected to widen racial disparities. Independent analysts estimate that the regulation threatens millions of people. A significant portion of those threatened by the regulation were born in the U.S., and nearly a third of those are children.

“This rule is a scare tactic designed to create fear and confusion in immigrant communities. The devastating effects will reach even further than the text of the rule itself, as immigrants and their families forgo vital food, housing, and health care services,” said Jane Perkins, legal director at the National Health Law Program.

La Clínica de la Raza and other plaintiffs are health care providers and other nonprofit organizations that seek to protect access to health care, nutrition, housing, and other government benefits for immigrants of color, regardless of their immigration status or financial means. The complaint asserts that the public charge regulation threatens their missions and the communities they serve.

“If the changes made to public charge are implemented, this will cause irrevocable damage to our communities. Deterring anyone from seeking public services that help them survive and support their families is inhumane,” said Carmela Castellano-Garcia, president and CEO of the California Primary Care Association. “We have an obligation to our patients and our communities to protect the rights of everyone, regardless of immigration status, which is why we are suing to stop the implementation of this rule.”

“The Trump administration has deliberately designed this policy to target families of color, which is part of its overall blueprint to change the face of what we look like as a nation and who is considered worthy of being an American. It threatens immigrants of color with exclusion and Americans of color with deprivation or family separation. And it aims to deny working-class immigrants of color the ability to thrive in the land of opportunity,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “We will not stand for it. We’re fighting back against this racist policy, and we’re going to win the fight to protect immigrant families.”

A recording the conference call regarding this filing is available at https://www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/public-charge-lawsuit-2019-08-16.mp3.

CONTACT

National Immigration Law Center: Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279, media@nilc.org

Western Center on Law & Poverty: Courtney McKinney, 214-395-2755, cmckinney@wclp.org

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles: Alison Vu, avu@advancingjustice-la.org

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Western Center statement on Trump Administration’s Public Charge Rule

The Trump administration has announced a new rule on the issue of Public Charge; it is a blatant attempt to bar immigrants of color who are not wealthy from accessing pathways to lawful permanent residence, like obtaining a visa or green card.

Since our country’s inception, people from all over the world have come to the U.S. in search of better opportunity – including the Trump family. Historically, Public Charge has been weaponized against various immigrant groups to feed one of the most harmful American habits, which is to stoke an “us vs. them” mentality, rather than to harness our diversity to build stronger communities, and a stronger country.

The rhetoric and actions of this administration are wreaking havoc, posing physical and psychological threats to communities across the country. The publication of this rule further asserts the racist ideology that says this country should be accessible only to white, wealthy people.

To be clear: this is an attack on communities of color, and we will not stand for it.

As we laid out in our December comments opposing the rule, this move is not only harmful in the short run, it will also have detrimental long-term effects for individuals and entire communities, and will drive people “into the shadows, dramatically decrease public health and well-being, and destabilize families.” Additionally, “Western Center has never supported the concept of public charge due to its history in racial discrimination and because it exacerbates racial disparities, its devaluation of human dignity particularly of those who are aged or disabled, and its blatant bias against low-income people.”

By implementing this new, radical version of the Public Charge rule, the Trump administration is continuing its destructive path to harm not only immigrant families, but also the communities they are an integral part of. In a state like California, where immigrants make up over a quarter of the population, this rule all but ensures a weaker future, which is why we will move forward in court to stop its implementation.

At this point, it is beyond frustrating that we have to keep playing defense to such harmful, illegal actions by the Trump administration when we as a nation face so many existential challenges that require collective, focused action. The administration’s fixation on racist, classist, and divisive policies takes all of our attention away from what should be the united goal of building a healthier country for everyone who lives here. Since this administration is uninterested in real leadership that could actually “Make America Great,” we are proud to work with community leaders, state leaders, and in the courts to defend our vision for what this country can and should be.

NOTE: The final rule is not yet in effect. It will become effective this October, unless litigation succeeds in halting it. For more information, you can:

New York State Follows California in Banning Hair Discrimination

The fight to legally protect black women and men with natural hair just gained another ally. On July 12th, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed assembly bill 007797to prohibit “race discrimination based on natural hair or hairstyles” in the state of New York.

…The Crown Coalition, which is comprised of the the National Urban League, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Color Of Change, and Dove, hoped this would encourage other states to follow California’s lead.

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A Black Mother Told Not to Scream in Labor Asks: Can California Fix Racism in Maternity Care?

Bettye Jean Ford was in her second trimester when the pressure she had been feeling in her abdomen for weeks turned to excruciating pain. She rushed to a Los Angeles emergency room, where she was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and sent home with antibiotics. Still cramping severely, the first-time expectant mother spent the next 24 hours trying to sleep.

The next morning, her obstetrician found her dilated and sent her to the hospital next door where an ultrasound confirmed she was in labor. Rather than being admitted, she was sent back to the clinic with paperwork to finish.

…Advocacy groups including Black Women for Wellness and The Western Center on Law and Poverty, an anti-poverty organization, sponsored the bill after noticing how racial discrimination persists in medicine regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.

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Western Center submits comments opposing HUD anti-immigrant rule proposal

The comment period has ended for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s proposed rule to deny housing assistance to “mixed-status” families that include undocumented or otherwise ineligible individuals. The change would leave families with the choice of kicking out undocumented family members from their household, or completely losing assistance, which would also significantly impact many children who are U.S. citizens.

Western Center is strongly opposed to the rule; if implemented, it will have a devastating impact on over 25,000 families, and will create decades of generational instability and poverty. California in particular cannot afford for this rule to be implemented in the midst of our housing crisis. “Mixed-status” families are the backbone of our state; imposing this kind of baseless cruelty and instability is not only morally bankrupt, it is also devoid of common sense.

An excerpt from our comment is below. The full letter can be read here.

“As California’s oldest and largest legal services support center, we have over 50 years’ experience fighting to reduce poverty in our state through the courts, the legislature, and by working with state and local agencies to ensure our laws are fair and justly implemented. We can speak directly to which federal and state policies serve to reduce poverty in our communities and benefit our state and country as a whole and which policies worsen poverty, penalize families struggling to make ends meet, and hurt us all. HUD’s proposed rule threatens to exacerbate poverty by evicting over 25,000 families with mixed immigration status, betraying this country’s promise of opportunity in favor of an unreasoned, unworkable policy. Almost ten thousand of those families are in California. The rule should be withdrawn.”

Dove & The CROWN Coalition Joins Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright (NY) To End Hair Discrimination In New York State With S6209 The CROWN Act

Dove and fellow co-founding members of the CROWN Coalition (National Urban League, Color Of Change and Western Center on Law & Poverty) are excited to extend their support to Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright (NY) and congratulate Senator Jamaal T. Bailey (Democrat | NY) as NY S6209 ‘The CROWN Act’ passed the Senate, 46-16 on Monday, June 17 to prohibit discrimination based on natural hair or hairstyles.

…”A person’s professional capacity has nothing to do with whether or not they process their hair to conform to an idea of professionalism or beauty rooted firmly in European standards,” said Courtney McKinney, Communications Director, Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We are a multiracial society in need of diverse thought, leadership, and experience. Simply put, our collective success relies on our commitment to respect every person in every form — hair and all.”

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Western Center teams up with The Last Black Man in San Francisco for community workshop

The Last Black Man in San Francisco tells the story of Jimmie Fails, a black man fighting to maintain his place in his hometown of San Francisco. Western Center fights every day for people in communities like those highlighted in the film, so we teamed up with the filmmakers for a community storytelling workshop in Bayview — one of the last working class neighborhoods in San Francisco.

Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot shared their experience making the movie, from childhood conversations to the Sundance Film Festival. Workshop attendees also shared their stories, from spoken word to rap.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is in theaters this summer, so be sure to put it on your summer movie list!

GUEST BLOG: Understanding the impact of criminal administrative fees, and how solutions like SB 144 can move California toward a more equitable future

By Stephanie Campos-Bui

I am a supervising attorney in the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law, where we have been researching fines and fees in the justice system since 2013.

In 2017, we worked closely with Senator Mitchell and then-Senator Lara on Senate Bill 190, co-sponsored by Western Center, Youth Justice Coalition, and PolicyLink, among others, which repealed county authority to charge juvenile fees to families of young people in California. One year into implementation of SB 190, all 58 counties have stopped charging juvenile fees.

Given what we learned about juvenile fees, we are now supporting research efforts on fee assessment and collection practices in the criminal (adult) justice system. We have already observed similar findings to those in the juvenile space.

The majority of fees currently charged to people who come into contact with the justice system were authorized during the 1980s and 90s during the War on Drugs, and when the state faced a multi-billion-dollar deficit — the Legislature turned to fine and fee revenue to fill funding holes.

As a result, the existing fee scheme in California is wide-reaching and overly complex. At nearly every point in the criminal legal process, California state law authorizes counties to charge fees. From booking and arrest, representation by a public defender, to court-ordered programs and probation supervision, an individual can face a host of fees, including for collection. Counties also have discretion on the amount charged, so practices vary widely across California. In San Diego County, an adult on probation for five years can be charged almost $12,000, but just miles over in neighboring Imperial County, they would be charged $1,700.

To protect individuals against excessive fees, state law allows, but does not mandate, counties to consider an individual’s income and resources before assessing fees. In many instances, counties do not conduct meaningful ability-to-pay determinations or any determinations at all, leaving individuals with bills they cannot afford and will never pay.

We saw this in the recent Court of Appeals decision, People v. Duenas, in which Western Center was involved on behalf of the defendant, Duenas. In that case, LA County failed to assess whether a single mother, Velia Duenas, could pay the fines and fees imposed against her. In addition to finding the county in violation of due process under the United States and California Constitution, the court recognized that “…imposing unpayable fines on indigent defendants is not only unfair, it serves no rational purpose, fails to further the legislative intent, and may be counterproductive.”

Our ongoing research has shown that the snowball effect of fees can cause significant economic and social harm, while generating low revenue. Fees can quickly add up to thousands of dollars, and once imposed, can become civil judgments, subjecting individuals to tax intercepts and wage garnishments, which impacts credit scores and limits access to stable employment, housing, education, and public benefits. A survey conducted by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights found that the average debt for fines and fees was $13,607.

According to a report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, people sometimes turn to underground communities or criminal activity to manage the financial strain of high outstanding fees. Studies have also found that criminal justice debt correlates with a greater likelihood of an individual returning to prison. Those negative outcomes not only harm public safety, but also makes reentry into society much harder.

Unsurprisingly, all of this disproportionately harms low-income people and people of color. Due to over-policing and targeted policing in communities of color, Black and Brown people are punished more frequently and harshly at a variety of discretion points, which leads to higher fee burdens.

Theoretically, fees are intended to help local jurisdictions recoup costs associated with the justice system. Yet counties often recover only a small proportion of what they assess. In Alameda County, the rate of collection on probation supervision fees during 2017 was 4%.  In San Francisco, the collections rate for probation fees in 2016 was 9%.

Such low return rates are not a result of lax collection efforts, but because most system-involved individuals are low-income and cannot afford to pay the fees. For example, in Humboldt County, eighty-four percent of people on probation had a monthly income of less than $1,000.

Additionally, counties spend significant resources trying to assess and collect fees. Records from LA County showed that in fiscal year 2017-18, the County spent $3.9 million to collect $3.4 million in probation fees, resulting in a loss of half a million dollars. Even in counties where collection costs don’t exceed revenue, the resources put toward collection efforts—both within county and to private agencies—do not result in significant returns. And fees are not just costly, they also crowd out spending on positive social goods like healthcare and education. The lack of investment in those areas imposes harm over time, prolongs and exacerbates poverty, and generates costs to families, communities, and society.

The good news is that we have already seen reform across the state. Los Angeles County eliminated its public defender registration fee in 2017 after recognizing the fee’s potential to dissuade people from using their constitutionally-guaranteed right to counsel. San Francisco County eliminated 12 criminal administrative fees and penalties in June 2018, discharging $32 million, and Alameda County ended the assessment and collection of five administrative fees in November 2018, discharging $43 million.

Statewide, SB 190 ended juvenile fee assessments as of January 1, 2018, and 36 of 58 counties opted to go beyond the requirements of the law by also ending collection on over $236 million in outstanding fees, which underscores the commitment counties have to doing right by the populations they serve.

This year, Senate Bill 144, co-sponsored by Western Center, ACLU California, East Bay Community Law Center, PolicyLink, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Youth Justice Coalition, and more, builds on these reform efforts by tackling the array of fees and costs charged to people in the criminal justice system. The bill addresses fees charged for booking and arrest, representation by counsel, diversion and alternative programming, probation, court-ordered programs and classes, drug and alcohol testing, collection fees, and civil assessments. The bill also seeks to end collection on unpaid fees and discharge and vacate outstanding debt.

The use of fines and fees has widened the reach and impact of the justice system to include more people, and has created long-lasting collateral consequences which ultimately serve the racially motivated underpinnings upon which our justice system was built—to control and marginalize black and brown communities. Fees and fines are not a reasonable answer for any of society’s problems — the criminal justice system should be funded by a more stable, predictable, and equitably-generated source of funding. SB 144 is a substantial step in that direction.

 

Western Center, Debt Free Justice Coalition Sponsoring Bill to End Criminal Justice Admin Fees

Senate Bill 144, introduced by Senator Holly J. Mitchell, was amended with text that will end the assessment and collection of administrative fees imposed against people in the criminal justice system. By doing so, it would dramatically reduce the economic hardships caused by court-ordered debt and enhance the economic security of system-involved populations, their families and their communities. SB 144 will usher in an era of criminal justice policy that does not rely on stripping wealth from communities of color and low-income communities. The Debt Free Justice Coalition is sponsoring the legislation and has issued the following statements:

“Eliminating administrative fees will allow formerly incarcerated people to devote their already limited resources to critical needs like food, education, housing and health insurance. Repealing criminal fees will result in improved employment prospects for formerly incarcerated people and put more money in the pockets of economically insecure families, aiding successful reentry and reducing California’s recidivism rate.”

— Jessica Bartholow, Western Center on Law and Poverty

Read full statement here.