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Congress: Medicaid Allows Me to Have a Job and Live Independently

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 13:45 -0400

As an American living with a disability, I need Medicaid to live an independent life. As part of the one of five Americans living with a disability, I am happy to be gainfully employed. I am able to file and pay my taxes in a timely manner and can be considered a responsible adult. But this is only possible because I have the support I need to get out of bed each morning. And in order to continue being a productive member of society, I need Medicaid. Never have I experienced more terror than when talks began in Washington, D.C., of new health care reform legislation that would essentially dismantle the health care system that allows me to live a fulfilling life. My fears came true last week when leaders in the House of Representatives introduced the American Health Care Act to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The legislation is now estimated to slash $880 billion from Medicaid over the next 10 years. And those cuts will hurt people like me who rely on Medicaid to lead full and dignified lives. At age two, I was diagnosed with a neuromuscular condition and am a full-time wheelchair user. This means that each day I need help to prepare for and conclude my day. This includes help getting out of bed, dressing, bathing, grooming, prepping my meals, and beyond. Fortunately, I get the help I need through Medicaid’s home and community-based services (HCBS), which enables me to live independently within my community and make a difference by helping people. Growing up in Kentucky, my family held me to the same standards of my able-bodied peers. I was expected to get a good education, pursue my dreams, and effect change in whatever way I could. For me, this meant leaving home to pursue both my education and career goals. Immediately after high school, I became a recipient of both Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid services. With these services and support, I could concentrate on building a life for myself without being concerned about how I would get out of bed, go to class, or even go to the restroom each day. Ultimately, I was offered my dream job in Washington — almost 1,000 miles away from home — where I could make a difference in the lives of young people. While I knew that my new salary would let me earn a living, I also knew that it wouldn’t change my need for home-based services. Like most people, I assumed that by getting a “real job” with “real insurance,” I would no longer need to worry about quality health care at home. But I was wrong. Almost immediately after starting at my new job, I learned that commercial/private insurance does not cover the services I need to live independently. I would still need to rely on the services supplied through Medicaid just to ensure that I could go to work and maintain the independence that I had worked so hard to attain. As of now, there are 582,000 people with disabilities on waiting lists for home and community-based services. Contrary to claims that cutting Medicaid for people who benefited from the ACA’s Medicaid expansion will leave more funding for people like me, this bill makes drastic cuts to all types of Medicaid enrollees, making longer wait lists for these services. This will affect millions of Americans with disabilities and could eviscerate the home health industry. I have worked incredibly hard and have followed all the “right” paths in order to enjoy a life of independence and happiness. One that doesn’t include nursing homes or living at an institution. All of that is threatened now. It is up to disability rights advocates, working alongside broader civil rights organizations like the ACLU and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, to defend our right to independence. We must raise our voices as loud as we can to ensure that these freedoms are not snatched from people like me.We must act now to save Medicaid. [...]



Un Oficial de Inmigración Nos Metió a Mi Hermana y a Mí en Un Armario y Nos Agredió Sexualmente

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:15 -0400

Nos fuimos de Guatemala buscando una vida pacífica. Lo que paso después que cruzamos la frontera nos cambió la vida. Advertencia: Este escrito contiene descripciones de asalto sexual sufridos por la autora por un oficial de inmigración. Había oído rumores sobre los retos a enfrentarse en la frontera de Estados Unidos, y entendía las consecuencias si decidiera cruzar para encontrar un futuro mejor. Aunque nada de eso importaba. Mi hermana y yo estábamos determinadas a huir de Guatemala. Luego de pensarlo y hablarlo una y otra vez, el julio pasado hicimos la movida. Nos montamos en un autobús y condujimos todo el camino hasta la frontera de Texas y México, rezando por una vida más segura y más pacífica. Cuando llegamos a la frontera de Estados Unidos, estábamos tan emocionadas. Habíamos llegado a la tierra de oportunidades, al país en el que se protegen los derechos humanos. Entendíamos que el arresto y la deportación eran una posibilidad, pero —por primera vez en muchos años— nos sentíamos seguras de que nadie nos haría daño. Desafortunadamente, ahora me doy cuenta que partimos de muchas premisas falsas. Después de cruzar la frontera, nos perdimos. Afortunadamente, o eso pensábamos, vimos a dos oficiales estadounidenses de inmigración y les pedimos ayuda. Los oficiales dijeron que nos ayudarían. Nos pidieron que levantáramos las manos, que sacudiéramos nuestra ropa, y se llevaron nuestras mochilas antes de llevarnos a una estación de Aduanas y Protección Fronteriza (CBP, por sus siglas en inglés).   Cuando llegamos a la estación, nos pidieron, a mi hermana y a mí, que nos quitáramos los zapatos, nos interrogaron y nos pusieron en una celda de detención. Nos dejaron ahí con solo un oficial de CBP. El oficial de CBP me llevó a lo que parecía ser un armario. El cuarto tenía comida como en una despensa, lo que me hizo preguntarme por qué me trajo aquí. Toda la situación se sentía extraña desde el principio. Una vez en el cuarto que parecía un armario, el oficial bloqueó la puerta y me pidió que me quitara mi suéter, mi camisa, y mi camisilla.  Dijo que esto era para asegurarse que no llevaba conmigo nada ilegal. Pero no se detuvo ahí. Me levantó el sostén, colocó sus manos debajo y me acarició los senos. Entonces, exigió que me quitara los pantalones y las mallas. Traté de calmarlo y le aseguré que no tenía nada que esconder, pero comenzó a bajarme la ropa interior a la fuerza. Me tocó inapropiadamente, pasando su mando por mi vagina. Estaba tan asustada y confundida— no podía entender por qué él estaba haciendo esto.  Claramente no era necesario por razones de seguridad. Me siento tan tonta por dejar que sucediera. Ahora me doy cuenta de que era todo para su propio disfrute. Minutos después, el mismo oficial se llevó a mi hermana menor, que solo tenía 17, al mismo cuarto. Mi hermana salió de ahí igual que yo; llorando y aterrorizada. Mi hermana era tan solo una niña— jamás pensé que le haría lo que me hizo a mí. Al día de hoy, todavía no lo puedo creer.  Me siento tan culpable. Pensábamos que habíamos dejado atrás un mundo de violencia y opresión, solo para darnos cuenta de que los oficiales de inmigración en los Estados Unidos parecían ser igual a los oficiales en nuestro país, abusando del tremendo poder y responsabilidad que conlleva su trabajo. Al vernos llorar, el oficial trató de calmarnos con chocolates y papitas. Esperaba que no hiciéramos un escándalo, que contuviéramos las lágrimas que había causado su comportamiento indignante, para que evitáramos que se metiera en problemas. La vergüenza y dolor que sentimos en ese cuarto son indescriptibles. La idea de que un oficial de inmigración toque las partes más íntimas de mi cuerpo sin mi consentimiento me mata. He sufrido todos los días por esta experiencia, al punto tal que se me hace extremadamente difícil dormir por las noches. Incluso, ha habido días en los que siento que no debería estar viva.  He estado recibiendo terapi[...]



A Border Agent Took My Sister and Me Into a Closet and Sexually Assaulted Us

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 11:45 -0400

We fled Guatemala looking for a safer and better life. What happened to us after crossing the border changed our lives. This piece originally appeared on ACLU of Northern California's Blog. Warning: This piece contains descriptions of sexual abuse experienced by the author by a U.S. immigration officer. I had heard rumors about the challenges faced at the U.S. border, and I understood the consequences of choosing to cross in hopes of a better future. None of that mattered, though. My sister and I were determined to escape Guatemala. After thinking and talking about it over and over, we made the move last July. We boarded a bus and took it all the way to the Texas-Mexican border, praying for a safer and more peaceful life. Leer en español By the time we made it to the U.S. border, we were so excited. We had made it to the land of opportunities, the country where human rights were protected. We understood arrest and deportation were a possibility, but — for the first time in many years — we felt confident that no one would hurt us. Unfortunately, I realize now that we made many false assumptions. After crossing the border, we got lost. Thankfully, or so we thought, we spotted two U.S. immigration officers and asked them for help. The officers said they would help us. They asked us to raise our hands, shake out our clothes, and took our backpacks before taking us to a Customs and Border Protection station. Once we arrived at the station, my sister and I were asked to remove our shoes, questioned, and then placed in a holding cell. We were left there with only one CBP officer. The CBP officer took me to what seemed like a closet. The room had no windows or furniture and had food in it. It seemed like a pantry, which made me wonder why he brought me here. The whole situation felt strange from the beginning. Once in the closet-like-room, the officer blocked the door and asked me to remove my sweater, shirt, and tank top. He said this was to make sure I wasn’t carrying anything illegal. But he didn’t stop there. He lifted my bra, placed his hands inside, and caressed my breasts. He then demanded I remove my pants and tights. I tried to calm him down and reassured him I had nothing to hide, but he started to forcefully pull down my underwear. He touched me inappropriately, running his hand over my vagina. I was so scared and confused — I couldn’t understand why he was doing this. It clearly wasn’t necessary for security purposes. Now that I look back, I feel so stupid that I let it happen. And I now realize it was all for his own enjoyment. A few minutes later, the same officer took my younger sister, who was just 17, into the same room. My sister emerged the same way as I had: crying and terrified. My sister is just a kid — I never thought he would do to her what he did to me. To this day I still can’t believe it. I feel so guilty. We thought we had left a world of violence and oppression, only to realize immigration enforcement officers in the United States appeared to be no different than law enforcement in our home country, abusing the tremendous power and responsibility that comes with their job. Watching us cry, the officer attempted to calm us down with chocolates and potato chips. He was hoping we wouldn’t make a scene, containing the tears caused by his outrageous behavior and therefore keeping him from getting in trouble. The shame and hurt we felt in that room are indescribable. The thought of an immigration enforcement officer touching my most intimate body parts without my consent breaks me. I have suffered every day from this experience that it has been extremely hard to sleep at night. There have even been some days when I feel like I shouldn’t be alive. I’ve been having regular counseling sessions, which have helped a lot. But I want this officer and any other CBP officer who commits this kind of abuse to be punished. When I first reported the incident, it took all of my inner my strength to reveal what had happened. I recounted the e[...]



The Government Is Trying to Name and Shame Local and State Police Departments That Won’t Do Their Bidding

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 11:45 -0400

A new report released by ICE is trying to coerce police across the country into becoming immigration enforcement agents. Immigration and Customs Enforcement yesterday released its first report attempting to name and shame police departments that require more than ICE’s say-so in order to hold someone in jail. This is just the Trump administration’s latest attempt to smear sanctuary cities, but it’s also a trap for local law enforcement—ICE could be shaming them into violating your rights. In the FAQ for the report, ICE goes out of its way to suggest that a detainer is something that it isn’t—a simple request to know when someone is being let out of jail. But that simply isn’t true. A detainer is a request to hold someone in jail, often longer than the local law enforcement agency is legally allowed. Doing so can lead to illegal arrests and the violation of a person’s constitutional rights. ICE claims in the FAQ that detainers are backed by probable cause. Often, they are not. Within a four-year period under the Secure Communities program, which allowed ICE to receive information from nearly every jail in the United States, ICE placed detainers on 834 U.S. citizens across the country, according to the government’s own data. As ICE hires 10,000 more agents, reintroduce Secure Communities, and issues more and more detainers, local police are simply gambling away the constitutional rights of their community. Multiple federal courts have reaffirmed what detainers are: New arrests that, absent any individual determination of probable cause, violate an individual’s right against unreasonable searches and seizures. The ACLU has regularly represented people who have had their rights violated after being held on detainers, including U.S. citizens. Like Trump himself, ICE seems to pay little deference to the judicial branch. In fact, it explicitly singles out Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office for turning down detention requests, even though New Orleans is legally bound to its policy under court order. It is deeply troubling that ICE would attempt to shame a sheriff for obeying the federal courts. ICE knows perfectly well what the problems with detainers are — law enforcement officers are telling them too, not just the ACLU and immigrants’ rights activists. “You can’t just pick up the phone and say, ‘Please hold an individual,’” said Jonathan F. Thompson, executive director of National Sheriffs’ Association. Yet, that’s exactly what ICE wants to shame local police into doing. Local governments have paid a heavy price for mistakenly placing their trust in ICE. Because detainers are requests, local police departments are liable for choosing to honor them. Some cities have paid thousands of dollars in damages after holding someone on a detainer request from ICE. More importantly, many law enforcement officers across the country have decided that stopping ICE from interfering with their work is vital to their public safety mission, and allowing that interference to continue harms it. We should all be disturbed by ICE’s use of propaganda to try and coerce communities into doing something that they believe makes them less safe. In fact, contrary to what ICE wants you to believe, sanctuary cities generally are safer than other localities. Under President Trump, we are already seeing an ICE unleashed, willing to disrespect the rule of law in its mission to deport every immigrant it can. Local police should do right by their residents and not give in to ICE’s petty scare tactics. In the immigrants’ rights movement, we say that “the only ‘secure community’ is an organized one.” If you want to keep your community whole, fight for your town to protect the rights of immigrants — and all residents. One way to start now is working to enact some of the policies in our Freedom Cities initiative, which are designed to stop ICE’s harmful practices. You can also help by distributing our Know Your Rights materials a[...]



In an Unprecedented No-Show, the U.S. Pulls Out of Planned Human Rights Hearing

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 11:00 -0400

The Trump’s administration decision to ghost the IACHR today demonstrates a shocking disrespect for human rights. The United States has pulled its participation from hearings planned for today by a regional human rights body that has enjoyed the support of every U.S. administration since its founding. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is meeting in Washington, D.C., for a regular session covering human rights issues spanning North and South America. The hearings today are scheduled to cover the Trump administration’s attempt to ban immigration from six predominantly Muslim countries, its immigration enforcement and detention policies, and its approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The ACLU is testifying on Tuesday at hearings that can be livestreamed here. In the past, when U.S. governments have sought to express displeasure at having their records scrutinized, they have occasionally protested by sending lower-level officials. But today’s refusal to engage the commission at all is a deeply troubling indication of its disrespect for human rights norms and the institutions that oversee their protection. The IACHR is an independent body of the Organization of American States, which brings together all 35 independent countries in the Americas. The U.S. has long been a champion of the work of the commission. While it has no enforcement mechanisms, its mandate is to promote human rights and examine violations in all OAS member states. The IACHR is often the only venue where victims of egregious human rights violations can seek a measure of recourse in the absence of accountability in their own countries. Survivors of the U.S. post-9/11 torture program have appealed to it, and even the Bush administration defended its policies before the IACHR. The United States’ record isn’t the only one under scrutiny during this session. In the last several days, the commission has heard extensive testimony on the human rights situation in Mexico, Honduras, Panama, Chile, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, with additional countries to face review today and tomorrow. After word of the U.S. absence spread, the State Department responded by stating that “it is not appropriate for the United States to participate in these hearings while litigation on these matters is ongoing in U.S. courts,” in reference to lawsuits against the government’s Muslim ban. But that doesn’t explain why it wouldn’t attend another hearing regarding a Japanese-Peruvian man who was rounded up with thousands of other Latin Americans, deported to a World War II-era internment camp, and denied redress to this day. It also doesn't explain why the Bush and Obama administrations appeared before the commission for hearings on CIA torture, Guantánamo, immigration detention, and prison issues, even though there was pending litigation at the time. The Trump administration’s refusal to engage with an independent human rights body, which has played a historic role in fighting impunity and barbaric military dictatorships in the region, sets a dangerous precedent that mirrors the behavior of authoritarian regimes and will only serve to embolden them. It is a worrying sign that the administration, which has also said it would review future engagement with the U.N. Human Rights Council, is not only launching an assault on human rights at home. Rather it’s upping the ante and weakening the institutions that hold abusive governments accountable. Let’s hope the no-show is temporary, and not a sign of what’s to come. This post has been updated to reflect the State Department's response. [...]



Arkansas’s Reckless Plan to Execute 8 Men in 10 Days Could End in State-Sanctioned Torture Before Death

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 16:30 -0400

Rushing to execute eight prisoners before an execution drug expires is callous and cruel. Between April 17 and 27, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson plans on doing what should be inconceivable: executing eight prisoners in ten days.After killing no prisoners in the last 12 years, the state is rushing to execute these eight men before the controversial execution drug it needs to carry them out expires on April 30. The drug, Midazolam, has been directly linked to past botched executions, but that hasn’t stopped Hutchinson from planning a killing spree in a few weeks. By racing to use a drug known to play a part in botched executions, the governor risks debasing the state of Arkansas, its citizens, and the very American traditions of justice by torturing prisoners to death. In a hospital setting, Midazolam is prescribed by doctors to calm patients’ nerves or act as a sedative for minor procedures. It is not used to put patients under for surgery, let alone anesthetize prisoners before killing them. And when Midazolam is combined with the two other drugs used during the execution — vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride — it produces unspeakable pain before death. We know this because it’s happened before.The most recent Midazolam botch occurred during Alabama’s December execution of Ronald Bert Smith. His execution took 34 minutes, during which time Smith heaved and coughed for 13 minutes. His attorneys reported that he remained conscious, responding to corrections officials, well into the execution. In 2014, the state of Ohio relied on Midazolam with the same horrific results. That same year, a similar nightmare transpired over the course of two long hours after Arizona used 15 repeated doses to execute Joseph Wood before he finally stopped coughing and, gulping once, died. These botches together have led an Ohio judge to halt future executions using Midazolam, while Florida and Arizona have also abandoned it. Beyond the cruelty of using a defective drug to kill someone, Arkansas is upping the probability of something going terribly wrong by ratcheting up the pace of its executions. Double and triple executions are rare in the history of the U.S. death penalty and haven’t occurred in close to 20 years. When they did happen, it was in a bygone era when states were annually executing three and four times as many people as they do today. Even then, no state attempted, as Arkansas plans for this April, four double executions in ten days. The last state to attempt a double execution was Oklahoma, when, also using Midazolam, it botched the execution of Clayton Lockett. The prison warden himself called it a “bloody mess.” The scene in Lockett’s execution chamber was chaos. A doctor was squirted with Lockett’s blood as it spurted from a vein. The personnel were confused and distressed. Lockett did not die until 43 minutes later, after the execution had been halted and the shades drawn on the adjacent viewing room. Meanwhile, Charles Warner waited to die in the state’s second planned execution of the night. After the botch of Lockett’s execution, Warner’s was cancelled, and the state announced that it would no longer schedule more than one execution in a seven-day period. Multiple dates, set so closely together, increase the risk of human error and resulting torture and injustice. Arkansas’s previous botched executions — of Ricky Ray Rector in 1992 and Christina Marie Riggs in 2000, like Lockett’s botch — each involved failure to place execution lines properly in the veins. This history highlights the role in executions of fallible human beings, who can’t help but be affected by the pace and horror of multiple executions. As Sen. John McCain said of Joseph Wood’s botched Midazolam execution, "The lethal injection needs to be an indeed lethal injection and not the bollocks-upped situation that just prevailed. That's torture.”History risks repeating itself w[...]



Secretary Price, Don’t Mess With People With Disabilities' Freedom

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 10:15 -0400

People with disabilities should have the freedom to make the basic choices that most Americans take for granted. Imagine a life where every part of your day is defined, regimented, controlled by someone other than you. Where even basic decisions, like what to eat, where to go, or who to spend time with are denied you. For people with disabilities living in many residential facilities, this is the reality. Basic choices, from decisions about where to live to the opportunity to be intimate with your partner, are denied people with disabilities across the nation. Many Americans are aware of these sorts of problems and the resulting loss of freedom faced by people with disabilities who are forced into nursing homes and other types of institutions. To address this, disability rights advocates have worked over the last 50 years to bring people out of institutional settings and into the community, fighting to expand Medicaid-funded home and community-based services, also known as HCBS.In 2013, after decades of effort by activists and federal policymakers, the percentage of Medicaid funding spent on community-based services finally exceeded that spent on institutional care. Many states have succeeded in serving people with developmental disabilities entirely in the community, no longer relegating people with Down syndrome, intellectual disability, and other similar diagnoses to institutions. Others are working towards similar outcomes. Unfortunately, the mindset of institutionalization still exists, even in community-based settings. A growing body of research indicates that, particularly in larger settings where people with disabilities are clustered together for provider convenience, residents are deprived control over basic choices. To address this, the Obama administration issued a groundbreaking rule in 2014, requiring every state to upgrade its home and community services to ensure that those receiving them had their basic rights respected by 2019. The HCBS settings rule included requirements that people get a choice of where they live, including the opportunity to pick residences other than group homes and other “disability-specific settings.” It also instructed states to ensure people living in residential facilities were afforded the right to choose what to do during the day, who they invited into their homes, when they ate, and whom they shared a bedroom with. These are the kinds of basic rights that most Americans take for granted — but for people with disabilities, federal intervention was necessary to protect them. Imagine a life where every part of your day is defined, regimented, controlled by someone other than you. The settings rule gave every state five years to work with providers and people with disabilities to reach compliance — unfortunately, it looks like that’s not going to happen. This week, President Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Seema Verma issued a letter to state governments indicating their intent to delay the rule’s implementation deadline, making the full realization of the rights of people with disabilities a dream deferred. What’s worse, the letter indicated their intent to rollback federal oversight, deferring to state governments as to whether or not particular providers and settings were respecting the rights of people with disabilities trying to live their lives on their own terms. That’s a problem. Basic freedoms like choice, autonomy, and privacy in one’s own home shouldn’t be subject to the whims of state legislators. This delay by Secretary Price and Administrator Verma threatens the fundamental rights of people with disabilities. It means that people’s freedom is determined based on what state they live in. In 2011, four states — Kentucky, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New Mexico — supported more than 90 percent of all people w[...]



What Does Nonpartisanship Look Like in the Age of Trump?

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 10:00 -0400

As the ACLU embarks on a new chapter of grassroots organizing, it will maintain its commitment to nonpartisanship. Last Saturday, this organization marked a radical departure from how we have done things in the past. At 2,200 events around the country, some 200,000 people across the country joined the ACLU to learn how they can fight the Trump agenda. For the first time in our 97-year history, we are organizing a grassroots resistance to unconstitutional policies for now and into the future, no matter which party is in power. But even as we begin to build political power through grassroots organizing, the ACLU will continue to pride itself on nonpartisanship. Our allegiance is to the Constitution, not any political party. Our mission is to protect the constitutional rights of every person in the United States, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or religion. In fulfilling that mission, we have challenged the administration of every president since Woodrow Wilson, regardless of party affiliation. Since the election of Donald Trump, the ACLU has emerged as a formidable leader opposing many of his administration’s policies. Our membership has nearly tripled. People have channeled their fears about the assault on our civil liberties into support for us because they see us as the best-suited organization in the country to challenge the constitutional crisis we are facing. Our aggressive stance against Trump and our efforts to build political power by no means move us from our core ideals or our commitment to nonpartisanship. Trump follows a long line of presidents taken to court by the ACLU. He won’t be the last. It is true that our oppositional stance against this president is particularly strong, but President Trump’s administration poses an unprecedented threat to our civil liberties. Trump’s policies on immigration, Muslims, torture, freedom of speech, reproductive rights, healthcare, and criminal justice — coupled with his lack of understanding and respect for the rule of law — amount to a constitutional crisis, the likes of which we have never seen. Their cruelty seems to know no bounds and could adversely affect the lives of millions of people. People with disabilities stand to be denied health care; women who need abortions or birth control could be unable to get either; families could be torn apart as parents of American children are deported. And we anticipate an assault on voting rights. At the same time, this president has created new civil liberties angles to old problems. His lack of transparency and accountability has compromised the integrity of our political system. If a foreign power intervened to influence the election, and the president looks the other way because he benefited from that intervention, this is a civil liberties issue because it devalues our voting rights. If a president puts his business interests ahead of the interests of the people he governs, this is a civil liberties issue because it undermines the Constitution by casting doubt on the longstanding value of impartiality in government decision-making. It is our responsibility as the country’s leading civil liberties organization to fight Trump at every step — both on traditional civil liberties fronts and new ones — to prevent the litany of human carnage in the making. And that fight cannot be limited to the courtroom. If our surge in membership, alongside recent protests across the country, has taught us anything, it is that our supporters want to be engaged in the fight. That means we need to organize town halls, lobby lawmakers, and organize protests — both in opposition to Trump’s policies and in support of the groups he has targeted. That is why we created People Power, the digital organizing platform that will enable us to do this. Our aggressive stance against Trump and our efforts to build political power by no means m[...]



Two Courts Find That, Yes, It Was a Muslim Ban All Along

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 18:15 -0400

Courts in Hawaii and Maryland ruled against the president’s executive order in another stinging rebuke of the president. The federal courts have dealt two more blows to President Trump’s ongoing attempt to ban Muslims from entering the United States. The two rulings, issued yesterday in separate lawsuits in Hawaii and Maryland, made clear that the president’s second Muslim ban executive order is just as unconstitutional as the first. The first blow came yesterday from a federal court in Hawaii. Just hours before the travel ban was scheduled to go into effect at 12:01 a.m. this morning, the court issued a ruling blocking the operative provisions of the executive order — both the ban against people from six predominantly Muslim countries and the provisions blocking refugee resettlement in the United States. The second ruling, in a case brought by the ACLU and the National Immigration Law Center on behalf of clients including the International Refugee Assistance Project and HIAS, came just before 2 a.m. from a Maryland district court. That ruling also blocked the six-country ban. Urge your senators to oppose Muslim ban 2.0. The breadth of the Hawaii ruling means that, for now, no part of the executive order can take effect without further input from the courts. A few main takeaways: 1. Keep talking, Mr. President. Despite the government’s claims to the contrary, both judges found ample evidence that religious discrimination, in clear violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, had motivated the executive order. The courts pointed to the words of the president himself, whose various statements during and since his campaign, including his campaign promise of “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” provided clear evidence of his intent to target Muslims based on religion. We also have the president’s associates’ words. When Rudy Giuliani boasted that Trump had asked him to craft a Muslim ban that could pass legal muster, and Stephen Miller stated that the second executive order would have the same basic effect as the first, they helped confirm the unlawful purpose. As a result, despite the changes made to the second order, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland noted that “the history of public statements continues to provide a convincing case that the purpose of the Second Executive Order remains the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban.” 2. National security was not the point. The federal court in Maryland, in particular, saw through the Trump administration’s claims that the ban was about national security, pointing to the absence of any evidence suggesting that nationals from the six countries pose a heightened threat to the United States. To the contrary, the court noted, a bipartisan group of former senior U.S. national security officials filed a friend-of-the-court brief stating that no acts of terrorism have been committed by citizens of the six countries since 9/11 and that no intelligence as of January suggested a heightened threat. To make matters worse, the federal judge noted that the White House never bothered to reach out to national security experts before implementing the first ban. This fact all but destroyed the national security rationale for the Muslim ban, according to the judge: “In this highly unique case, the record provides strong indications that the national security purpose is not the primary purpose for the travel ban… The fact that the White House took the highly irregular step of first introducing the travel ban without receiving the input and judgment of the relevant national security agencies strongly suggests that the religious purpose was primary, and the national security purpose, even if legitimate, is a secondary post hoc rationale.” 3. Now what? For now, thanks to the[...]



Kalief Browder’s Tragic Death and the Criminal Injustice of Our Bail System

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 14:45 -0400

The cash bail system in America damages and takes lives. Over the last two weeks, Americans have revisited the tragic details of the death of 22-year-old Kalief Browder. The documentary series “Time: The Kalief Browder Story,” airs its third of six episodes tonight about Kalief, who spent three years in jail without ever being convicted of the crime with which he was charged. Kalief’s story matters. It matters for his family. It matters for his community. It matters for New York. It matters for our entire nation. In Kalief’s story we can clearly see a culpable and fundamentally broken criminal justice system that punishes people for being poor, and subjects individuals to inhumane treatment. Kalief was 16 years old when he arrested in 2010 for allegedly stealing a backpack. He was charged with robbery, grand larceny, and assault. Bail was set at $3,000. The family could not afford that amount, so Kalief didn’t get to go home after he was charged. Instead, he was sent to the infamous Rikers Island jail in New York City. Let’s just pause on that fact: He had to go to Rikers because he couldn’t pay $3,000 in bail. Kalief spent more than 1,100 days incarcerated, maintaining his innocence throughout. Prosecutors repeatedly offered plea deals, which Kalief rejected. After 74 days of incarceration, bail was revoked altogether. By the time he left Rikers, this boy, who had been accused of stealing a backpack, had spent almost 800 days of solitary confinement. Eventually prosecutors realized they had no case and dismissed all charges. He was released on June 5, 2013. Yet the damage done to him was a new kind of prison that stayed with him. After his release, he told The New Yorker, “I’m not all right. I’m messed up.” On June 6, 2015, he hung himself with an air conditioner cord. He was 22 years old. Kalief’s abuse at the hands of the criminal justice system is a clarion to overhaul our nation’s jail system. On any given day, hundreds of thousands of Americans who haven’t been convicted of a crime rot in jail simply because they are too poor to afford bail amounts that would secure their freedom. More than 3,000 jails in the United States hold more than 650,000 people on any given day. About two-thirds, 450,000 people, are held awaiting trial. Most are in jail because they could not afford bail or a bail agent refused to post a bond. Their wealth determines whether they are incarcerated. This pretrial detention jails nearly half a million people at any given time and fuels over-incarceration by inducing guilty pleas, forcing people to lose jobs and housing, subjecting them to longer sentences, and exacting physical and financial damage. The inability to afford bail ruins lives, harms whole families, and has a negative impact on entire communities. The growth of jails in the U.S. is a major contributor to the national disease of mass incarceration. According to a report by the Vera Institute for Justice, the number of annual jail admissions doubled in the past three decades to 12 million, and the average length of stay increased from 14 to 23 days. According to the report, half of the people in New York City’s jails in 2013 were held on bail of $2,500 or less. And the system reproduces the structural racism already embedded in the criminal justice system. Black Americans, who make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, account for 36 percent of the jail population. They are jailed at almost four times the rate of white Americans. Yet there is hope. The ACLU and communities across the nation are fighting back, rejecting systems that require money in exchange for freedom. The state of New Jersey recently overhauled its bail system and nearly eliminated cash bail while also establishing a pretrial services agency. The reforms, which took effect in January of this y[...]