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American Civil Liberties Union


Reuniting a Mother and Child Torn Apart by ICE

Wed, 21 Mar 2018 16:30 -0400

An ACLU lawsuit helped one family, but ICE’s practice of separating children from their parents continues. Last week I visited our client Ms. L, a Congolese mother whose 7-year-old daughter was taken away from her by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials shortly after she entered the United States last year. She was now at a shelter for formerly detained immigrants in Chicago, awaiting reunification with her daughter, whom she had not seen in over four months. Ms. L, whose name we are withholding to preserve her privacy, showed me several photographs of her beautiful little girl. In one, the little girl was sitting on a staircase next to a woman, both of them grinning into the camera.  I asked who the woman was, and Ms. L looked at me with surprise. “It’s me,” she said. The smiling woman in the photo didn’t look anything like the distraught, gaunt woman with the empty stare whom I first met at a San Diego detention facility in February. It was taken a few months ago, before ICE took her daughter away.  Because of her distress, Ms. L hadn’t slept or eaten well in weeks. Ms. L and daughter fled the Democratic Republic of Congo in grave danger, and when they reached the United States on Nov.1, they immediately asked for political asylum. They were taken into custody together. But four days later, Ms. L said ICE officials handcuffed her, put a restraint around her waist and ankles and took her daughter away. Ms. L was locked up in the Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego. Her daughter was taken to Chicago and put in a facility for “unaccompanied” immigrant minors.     The two would still be on opposite sides of the country if we hadn’t filed a lawsuit on Feb. 26. The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, announced in December that it was considering separating children from their parents when they came to the United States to deter others from coming. Evidence suggests it had already begun doing so. Learn more about the case According to organizations that monitor detention facilities and provide services to asylum-seekers, there are hundreds of other children who have been separated from their parents. On March 9, the ACLU filed a motion expanding our lawsuit on behalf of Ms. L. into a nationwide class action suit on behalf of the hundreds of other unnamed families who have been torn apart. Ms. L and her daughter were given no explanation for the separation, had no lawyers and knew no one in the United States. Days after our lawsuit, and the media coverage and outrage that followed, the government abruptly released Ms. L. Concerned citizens across the country began contacting the ACLU asking what they could do to help. Among them was a couple in San Marcos, a suburb of San Diego, who heard about Ms. L and her daughter on NPR and offered to take her in. The couple had no connection to the Congo. She is a retired nurse, and her husband had been a banker. Ms. L speaks Lingala and a little bit of Spanish. This couple spoke neither, but pantomimed their way through five days together. Ms. L and her daughter are Catholic and a church had helped them flee the Congo.  So, on the evening of March 13, the night before she was to fly to Chicago, where she would eventually be reunited with her daughter, the couple and Ms. L sat down to dinner, held hands and said grace. The government agency in charge of “unaccompanied” immigrant minors, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, had said it would take at least a week to release the daughter. “I thank God if I can be with her in a week,” Ms. L said. The next morning, Ms. L boarded a flight for Chicago. Once there, she went to a shelter for immigrants newly released from immigration detention where the staff welcomed her with open arms. They introduced her to a couple of other residents — there are 12 living there – and showed Ms. L her room. One of the shelter volunteers had left a basket with a card and a stuffed animal for Ms. L’s daughter. The staff asked her if there was anything she needed. She said simply that she [...]

National Academies’ Report Finds, Once Again, That Abortion Is Safe

Wed, 21 Mar 2018 12:00 -0400

The science hasn’t stopped state legislators from erecting unconstitutional barriers for patients seeking an abortion. On Monday, the state of Mississippi banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It is the most extreme abortion ban in the country today, despite stiff competition. Fortunately, this baldly unconstitutional law was almost immediately blocked in court, but it’s worth reflecting on the faulty science — that is, the lies — underlying this latest outrage. Mississippi lawmakers enacted this draconian ban in part based on what they claim are the “significant physical and psychological risks” that abortion poses to patients. That’s nonsense, according to an independent, comprehensive review of the science on abortion released just last week. Based on a rigorous analysis of the full body of evidence on abortion, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine confirm what many reproductive health, rights, and justices advocates have been saying for decades: Abortion care in the United States is highly safe and effective, and the procedure can be safely provided in a variety of healthcare settings by a range of trained healthcare professionals. The new study bolsters the ACLU’s position in numerous federal and state lawsuits challenging medically unjustified restrictions on abortion. These include challenges to targeted regulations of abortion providers, or “TRAP” laws; mandatory abortion delay laws; biased counseling requirements; and the Food and Drug Administration’s needless restrictions on the abortion pill. According to the National Academies’ report, abortion care in the United States is extremely safe and rarely involves serious complications. Medication abortion has a particularly low complication rate, similar to other common prescription and over-the-counter medications. The study also confirmed that abortion can be offered safely in an office setting, without special equipment or arrangements, and that advanced practice clinicians — such as nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, and physician assistants — can provide medication and aspiration abortion safely and effectively. In particular, the study gives strong support to recent lawsuits in Maine, Montana, and Hawaii. Together with Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Maine, we’re challenging a Maine law that blocks qualified advanced practice registered nurses, or APRNs, from providing abortions, despite their rigorous post-graduate training and extensive clinical experience. The law severely restricts access to abortion care in the rural and medically underserved state, forcing some patients to travel more than six hours for care that they could safely get from an experienced APRN in their own community. The Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU of Montana are challenging a similar law in Montana. A third case filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii on behalf of a Hawaii doctor and several professional healthcare associations challenges federal restrictions on where a patient can fill a prescription for the abortion pill. As the National Academies’ report emphasizes, the abortion pill is a safe and effective method of ending an early pregnancy. But the FDA’s restrictions on this medication often add insurmountable hurdles to a patient’s ability to actually receive this care — for no medical reason. Leading medical authorities, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have concluded that the restrictions we’re challenging in all three of these cases are medically unfounded. The National Academies’ study reinforces those conclusions. The report also finds that medically unjustified restrictions on abortion can actually harm patients’ health and well-being. They interfere with the ability of healthcare providers to provide care in accordance with their patients’ needs and their own medical judgment. They can delay patients’ care, which increases costs and the potential for complications. Some restrictions prevent [...]

Internal Email Reveals Racism in Madison County Sheriff’s Department

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 15:30 -0400

New evidence further supports ACLU case against racialized policing of Black people in Mississippi county. “Arrested. Black. Male.” These are the words that have been pre-filled on a cover sheet to the Madison County Sheriff’s Department Narcotics Unit’s case files. All other fields have been left blank. These words tell the story of racially biased policing in the county that begins before officers even go into the community. The internal racism of the department represented in this form is just one piece of a larger body of compelling evidence that the sheriff’s department has a culture of racism that threatens Madison County’s Black community.  In June of, 2009, current Sheriff Randall Tucker, while a deputy under former Sheriff Toby Trowbridge, received and forwarded a racist email titled, “White Pride.” It contained the statements, “when I call you Nigger, Kike, Towel head, Sand-nigger, Camel Jockey, Beaner, Gook, or Chink . . . You call me a racist.” The email concludes by encouraging the reader to express support for its sentiments by forwarding it along, which Sheriff Tucker did. The ACLU of Mississippi, along with its co-counsel at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP and the ACLU’s national office, uncovered these and other documents during six months of legal discovery before proceeding to file a motion for class certification on March 14, 2018, in Brown v. Madison County. In the case, we sued Madison County and its sheriff’s department for operating a policing program that targets Black people on the basis of race. The problem, however, runs deeper — much deeper — than racist sheriff emails. The Madison County Sheriff’s Department’s policy of racialized policing stretches back at least as far as the prior sheriff’s administration. In 2006, Black residents of Canton, Mississippi — a predominantly Black town in Madison County and the county seat — presented a petition bearing 664 signatures to the Madison County Board of Supervisors demanding an end to “frequent roadblocks in the predominantly black neighborhoods” and “racial profiling.” The response? Former Sheriff Toby Trowbridge refused to even meet with the protestors. Trowbridge denied using racial profiling and vowed to continue using roadblocks as a policing tactic, despite the evidence that they were disproportionately affecting Black people. His casual brushing aside of community outrage dovetails with the casual racism exhibited by the sheriff’s department. Tellingly, current Sheriff Tucker later pledged to “maintain the quality of law enforcement that we have under Sheriff Trowbridge,” and upon taking office in 2012, officially adopted all of Trowbridge’s policies. The roadblocks and racial profiling continue to this day. During his deposition in this case, former Sheriff Trowbridge testified about the use of racial slurs at the sheriff’s department by MCSD personnel, including by him, and a MCSD patrol supervisor testified that he has used racial slurs in the course of his duties and had not been disciplined. Far from being punished for racism, the department appears to have institutionalized it. Other evidence and data collected during the discovery phase support the fact that MCSD has a longstanding policy of stopping and searching Black drivers and pedestrians who travel in Madison County on the basis of their race. For example, over 30 people, including the named plaintiffs, submitted declarations explaining their experiences with MCSD that reflect this racism — testimony that corroborates the existence of a racially biased policing program and the department’s abuse of authority. Lawrence Blackmon, one of our named plaintiffs, was tackled, made to lay face down, and then handcuffed at gunpoint after he asked to see a warrant before allowing deputies to enter his home. He asked them to show the warrant. They did not. Instead, they searched his home, looking in drawers and cabinets for a full-grown man they claimed to have a warra[...]

No, the President Can’t Legally Gag White House Staffers

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 13:00 -0400

The First Amendment protects the free speech rights of government employees to help ensure government accountability. It’s no surprise that the Trump administration would like to find a way to stop the flood of leaks coming from the White House. But avoiding embarrassment is no grounds for government censorship, and the latest leak-plugging effort we’ve heard of violates the First Amendment. The Washington Post has reported that senior White House staff members were pressured to sign nondisclosure agreements prohibiting them from revealing any non-public information they learn of at work. The draft NDA supposedly requires them to stay silent, not just while they are employed at the White House, but even after they leave — and to pay damages into the federal treasury if they speak out. In other words, it aims to muzzle them forever. Such a broad agreement is unenforceable because the First Amendment protects federal employees’ right to speak in a private capacity about matters of public concern — and certainly the functioning of a presidential administration raises many issues that are of public concern. Indeed, countless former White House officials have talked and written books about their time working for presidents, covering everything from decision-making processes and substantive policy debates to interagency turf battles and personal vendettas. Putting a gag order on these officials would leave the public in the dark about how the government works, preventing the kind of informed debate that is critical to democratic accountability. To be sure, the government can restrict its employees from sharing certain information, such as properly classified material. But even then, laws restricting the sharing of classified information should allow room for whistleblowers to reveal evidence of government illegality or misconduct. The ACLU has previously attempted to shed light on the federal government’s restrictive prepublication review system, which requires certain past and present federal employees to submit any works for security review before publishing them. That system gives government officials too much power to censor messages they don’t like. The White House NDA, as reported, is far too broad to pass First Amendment muster. It purports to bar the discussion of basic details about the inner workings of the White House, even if the government has no legitimate interest in keeping that information secret. This would prevent the public from learning about many issues of critical public importance, including what decisions get made and who is making them. It is ironic that the very existence of this unconstitutional tool meant to plug White House leaks was exposed by the press. But these NDAs can be harmful even if the White House never attempts to enforce them, because of the potential chilling effects they could have. Former aides could self-censor to avoid the risk of a legal fight, depriving us all of relevant information and opinions that could affect public debate. The First Amendment protects government employees’ free speech rights to avoid that very outcome.[...]

Democracy Just Got Stronger in Washington State

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 10:15 -0400

The state’s Voting Rights Act will help ensure minority representation in a system of majority rule. After years of work by activists, stakeholders, community groups, and lawmakers, Gov. Jay Inslee signed the Washington Voting Rights Act into law. This historic legislation paves the way for communities across Washington state to find local solutions for an issue that has existed since the founding of our democracy — how to ensure minority representation in a system of majority rule. The WVRA improves voting rights by expanding on the protections of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Almost all local elections in Washington currently use an at-large system where the entire community chooses who represents them on multi-member bodies such as city councils, school boards, and port districts. In areas where polarized voting occurs, at-large elections may prevent a minority group from electing any candidates that represent their community. Because the votes of the minority group become diluted in the at-large system, the makeup of the elected body does not truly reflect the community it is supposed to represent. This has had damaging effects for minority groups in Washington and around the country. For example, the city of Yakima, Washington, was found to be in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. No Latino official had ever been elected to the city council despite the fact that over 40 percent of the city’s population is Latino. Because Yakima held at-large elections, this entire community was effectively shut out of council elections and having a voice in city government. The alternative used to fix this imbalance was switching to district-based elections, which divided the city into districts from which members of the legislative body were chosen. Because these districts were drawn to better reflect the demographics of Yakima than a single at-large district, the resulting elected body can now more accurately represent the population it serves. In the first election after Yakima switched to district-based elections, three Latina candidates were elected to the city council. Yakima’s history isn’t unusual. Cities and counties from California to Georgia also used at-large voting systems that undermined the representation of minority groups, and they were challenged in the courts by activists. Before the WVRA, no mechanism existed for local governments in Washington state to change their election systems without first undergoing a lawsuit that was often expensive and time-consuming. This law now empowers communities to voluntarily reform their election systems without resource-draining litigation. Any voter in a community who feels that the local election system is not in accordance with the federal Voting Rights Act can now file a notice with the local government that describes both the potential violation and a proposed remedy. The local government and the notice filer can then work together to find a solution that fixes the problem. It is only if no satisfactory remedy is implemented within the prescribed time frame that legal action is taken. While district-based elections could solve such issues, the WVRA does not prescribe them as the only solution and allows room for creativity in developing the proper system for each individual community. Activists with ACLU’s People Power like me worked to support the WVRA as part of the nationwide Let People Vote campaign, which began in October. We and our partners reached out to state lawmakers, attended committee hearings at the statehouse, and advocated for this change through grassroots organizing in our local communities alongside allies in the Washington Voting Justice Coalition. In tumultuous times, we need to find solutions to common problems while ensuring minority rights and representation. Washington’s new voting rights law will help to do just that. Its passage shows that committed activism makes our democracy stronger and more representa[...]

Kobach Exposed at Trial

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 18:00 -0400

Kobach utterly failed to present convincing evidence for his claim of rampant voter fraud. The federal trial over a law that disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters in Kansas is expected to end tomorrow. For the past two weeks, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has attempted to defend not just his signature legislation, which requires people to show documentary proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate or passport when registering to vote, but to support his claim of rampant voter fraud. He failed spectacularly on both scores. Here are the courtroom highlights: Kobach’s “iceberg” of fraud: Kobach has been looking for proof of illegal voters for years, and he’s had unparalleled resources to do so. In 2015, he successfully pushed Gov. Sam Brownback for the power to criminally prosecute cases of voter fraud, making him the only secretary of state in the country with such sweeping authority. So what exactly did he come up with? At trial, Kobach was only able to identify 18 noncitizens — out of 1.8 million voters —who have successfully registered to vote over a nearly 20-year period. Only five of them actually cast a ballot. Kobach was not able to show that these 18 instances constituted intentional cases of fraud, rather than mistakes stemming from clerical errors. Regardless, Kobach claims that these numbers represent “just the tip of the iceberg.” In his crusade to find the rest of the non-existent mass, he seems willing to accept the more than 35,000 people who were actually blocked from registering to vote under his law as collateral damage. Kobach’s expert witness failed to identify a single federal election changed by noncitizen voting.  Kobach presented Hans von Spakovsky to the court as an expert on elections, election administration, and voter fraud. A senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, von Spakovsky has been a vocal proponent of restrictive voter ID laws to combat noncitizen voting. He previously served with Kobach on President Trump’s now-disbanded commission on Election Integrity. Prior to trial, von Spakovsky produced a report stating that Kansas’ documentary proof-of-citizenship requirements pose no burden to voters. And during cross-examination, von Spakovsky said he could not name a single voter registration requirement in effect that he would consider burdensome to voters. He was unable to name a single federal election where the outcome was changed by noncitizen voting. Von Spakovsky is no expert on voting, and it appears he knows nothing about citizenship in the United States. He does not believe that anyone born on American soil is, in fact, an American citizen. Rather, he said on the stand that “to be a U.S. citizen at least one of your parents has to be a U.S. citizen.” This is absolutely false. Kobach’s other expert witness offered no evidence of rampant voter fraud in 2016. Kobach has repeatedly cited research by Jesse Richman, an associate professor at Old Dominion University, to support his claims about voter fraud. He cited that research to support his theory that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, costing Trump the popular vote. Under cross-examination, Richman said that his study does not support Kobach’s conclusions and he doesn’t know of any studies that do. Before the trial, Richman had produced several highly questionable estimates of the number of noncitizens registered to vote in Kansas, which ranged from 1,000 to 18,000 individuals. When asked about the 18,000 figure, Richman admitted that it was an unweighted estimate with a small sample size and that a weighted sample size would, in fact, produce a better estimate. The ACLU also presented an open letter signed by 200 political scientists who criticized Richman’s work and methodologies for identifying noncitizens on the voter rolls. One of these methods was flagging “foreign-sounding” names. During cross-examination[...]

The Trump Administration’s Multi-Pronged Assault on Immigrants’ Rights

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 16:30 -0400

President Trump and Congress seek to pass a federal budget that would put the deportation machinery into even higher gear.

At first glance, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ lawsuit against California, the current federal budget negotiations, and the continuing crisis facing Dreamers may seem like separate storylines. But they are intertwined, key planks of the Trump administration’s sustained assault on immigrant communities and fundamental constitutional values.

Right now, President Trump and Congress seek to pass a federal budget that would put the deportation machinery into even higher gear. The administration’s budget request asks taxpayers for $21.5 billion for its immigration and border enforcement agenda, an amount greater than the budgets of all other law enforcement agencies combined. This would mean more agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and border patrol agents, more detention beds in private immigration prisons, and the further militarization of border communities. In light of what we are witnessing across America, we should be ending, not enabling, the Trump deportation agenda.

The Justice Department’s lawsuit against the state of California over three pro-immigrant state laws is the latest effort by the Trump administration to force states and local communities into carrying out its deportation agenda. But California and other states resisting this agenda have the Constitution and the public’s interest on their side. The administration continues to lie about immigrants and crime, and it’s obvious that its actions are not motivated by public safety concerns. Indiscriminate arrests and practices such as detaining witnesses at courthouses sow fear in immigrant communities and make it harder for local law enforcement to maintain trust with the entire community.

Multiple courts have already ruled against the administration’s attempts to force state and local governments to serve its goals. The outcome in the suit against California should be no different. Disentangling local law enforcement from ICE is needed in the face of continued sweeping and indiscriminate arrests, detentions, and deportations. Under Trump, arrests by ICE have already spiked 41 percent compared with 2016.

And if Congress doesn’t hold the line against this agenda, these immigration raids will soon have a new target: Dreamers. The lives and futures of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and hundreds of thousands of other Dreamers, either too young or too old to apply for DACA, are in peril as the Trump administration moves to increase arrests and deportations while Congress does nothing.

The federal courts have temporarily blocked a full rescission of the DACA policy, allowing those who have DACA to renew their status, but the courts cannot deliver the permanent solution Dreamers need. Young undocumented immigrants deserve certainty to live their lives in this country, which is their home.

It’s time for all of us to take a clear-eyed view at what is happening in this country and to stand up for our vision of a humane and inclusive America. As Attorney General Xavier Becerra of California recently said of his state’s approach, “we’re in the business of public safety, not deportation.” And the Trump agenda, clearly, is in the business of deportation, not public safety.

The Assault on Environmental Protest

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 16:45 -0400

Lawmakers are trying to give corporate interests tools to punish people for speaking up for their communities. More than 50 state bills that would criminalize protest, deter political participation, and curtail freedom of association have been introduced across the country in the past two years. These bills are a direct reaction from politicians and corporations to the tactics of some of the most effective protesters in recent history, including Black Lives Matter and the water protectors challenging construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock.  If they succeed, these legislative moves will suppress dissent and undercut marginalized groups voicing concerns that disrupt current power dynamics. Efforts vary from state to state, but they have one thing in common: they would punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment. For example, bills introduced in Washington and North Carolina would have defined peaceful demonstrations as “economic terrorism.” In Iowa, legislators are currently considering bills that would create the crime of “critical infrastructure sabotage.” Labels like “terrorists” and “saboteurs” have long been misused to sideline already oppressed groups and to vilify their attempts to speak out. Other bills are written so broadly that they could impose criminal penalties and devastating fines simply for offering food or housing to protestors. For instance, a bill currently being considered in Wyoming would impose a $1 million penalty on any person or organization that “encourages” certain forms of environmental protest. Legislation introduced in Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, and North Dakota would have allowed drivers to hit protesters with cars without criminal repercussions. Corporations like Energy Transfer Partners — the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline — and industry groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council are encouraging these bills. Not surprisingly, the efforts have gotten the most traction in states key to oil and gas interests.  Proponents of these bills are using “protection” of critical infrastructure as a guise for these First Amendment attacks. That framing completely ignores the many laws already on the books addressing those concerns, from trespass to property damage. Indeed, protesters are already being arrested under those laws across the country.  Legislation is not the only tool the oil and gas industry is deploying in its effort to silence opposition. Six months ago, Energy Transfer Partners filed a $900 million dollar lawsuit against several environmental groups, including Greenpeace, alleging that a “criminal enterprise” was put in place to stop the pipeline project. Similarly, 84 members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to the Department of Justice earlier this fall, asking officials to prosecute pipeline activists as “terrorists” — a troubling policy that resembles the one being lobbied for at a federal level by the American Petroleum Institute. Corporations are already abusing existing laws to silence dissent and shut the public out of decision-making. Now, lawmakers are trying to give corporate interests even more tools to punish people for speaking up for their families and communities. That is an attack on democracy — one our organizations will continue to resist.  This piece was originally published on March 2 by The Hill.[...]

It’s Time to Make Voting More Accessible and Secure in Michigan

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 16:45 -0400

The Promote the Vote campaign aims to make voting more accessible, secure, and fair for all Michiganders. Recently, I visited Alabama with the Faith and Politics Institute for Congressman John Lewis’ Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage. We visited civil rights monuments in Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama, before heading to Selma to commemorate Bloody Sunday. As we reflected on the rights that were so bravely fought for on that Sunday decades ago, we recognized that the fight continues on across the country. In Michigan, we’re taking the fight to the ballot and aiming to ensure all can vote. We want to make voting more accessible, secure, and fair for all Michiganders. Earlier this year, the ACLU of Michigan, along with the NAACP and League of Women Voters, launched the Promote the Vote, a ballot measure campaign that would secure the right to vote for all eligible voters in Michigan. This initiative would amend the state constitution to allow voters to register at any time — up to and including on Election Day; automatically register voters; require post-election audits; expand access to absentee ballots; allow for straight-ticket party voting; and ensure those in the military get their ballots with enough time to vote. Our goal is to put the amendment on the ballot this November. For too long Michigan has lagged behind other states in knocking down the unnecessary road blocks voters encounter when trying to exercise their right. Working families have to face long lines, travel long distances to their polling place, and take time off work to vote. Military service members overseas aren’t always sure they’re going to get their ballot in time. This needs to change. We know making it easier to register to vote means more people will vote. In the 15 states that allow people to register up to and on Election Day, voter turnout has increased by an average of about five percent. Automatic voter registration has the potential to do the same. The policy ensures those eligible to vote will be registered, unless they decline, after any interaction with the secretary of state’s office. This includes getting a driver’s license or a permit. It makes registering to vote more efficient and saves localities from having to process paper registrations. Nine states already have this in place with an additional 15 state considering adopting the policy for this election year. Michigan makes it hard for individuals who can’t vote on Election Day to vote by absentee ballot. Our Promote the Vote measure would amend this. For a single working mom like Angela Willson of Grosse Pointe Park, easier access to an absentee ballot means she does not have to take off time from her two jobs to vote. Almost 30 states do not require a reason to vote absentee, so this ballot initiative would bring Michigan in line with the majority of the country. All these updates would make voting more of a sure thing in Michigan, guaranteeing a fair and accessible process. Following in the footsteps of civil rights leaders, we’re continuing their work today. We want every eligible person who can vote to vote, and we want to ensure that every vote will count. We’re off to a strong start to collecting signatures from Michigan residents to qualify for the November ballot. You can join our effort at Promote the Vote:[...]

Congress Proposes to Fight Online Trafficking By Harming Sex Workers

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 16:15 -0400

This legislation will harm the people it is seeking to protect. The U.S. Senate is poised to pass legislation that is intended to stop the internet from being used for sex trafficking — a worthy goal aimed at addressing a serious problem. However, the legislation known as the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, or FOSTA, could harm the very people that it is intended to protect. The legislation also threatens the vibrancy of the internet as the world’s most significant marketplace of ideas, and it will inhibit its growth as a place of creativity and innovation. Proposals to address sex trafficking should not make workers in the sex trade more susceptible to violence and exploitation. FOSTA threatens the lives and safety of sex workers — people who are disproportionately LGBTQ and people of color. The legislation does this through a dangerously broad definition of “promotion of prostitution,” which is not limited to trafficking and could sweep in any trading of sex for money or other goods. The bill also creates a new, vaguely defined federal crime for the facilitation of prostitution which could result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years. FOSTA’s definition of “facilitation” is so open to interpretation that it could include critical harm reduction and anti-violence tactics that sex workers depend on to survive. These harm reduction tactics include being able to share information and techniques online, such as screening clients for violence; online advertising, which allows people to work in safer locations off the street and to be more discerning about clients; and “Bad Date Lists,” which host information online about individuals who have previously victimized those who trade sex. Taking away the ability of sex workers to utilize online platforms to meet clients will force them back into street-based work where there is less time to negotiate safety needs and a higher risk of violence from both clients and law enforcement. An important 2017 study from West Virginia University and Baylor University found a 17 percent drop in rates of homicide against women correlated to Craigslist opening its Erotic section because it made sex work safer. As our colleagues at the National Center for Transgender Equality and dozens of other organizations that advocate for the rights of sex workers correctly noted in a recent letter to Congress: After the closure of RedBook and, sex workers were instantly thrown from the online spaces and communities which provided the ability to screen clients, find out safety and health information and form community. The ability to access online platforms to advertise means that sex workers are able to screen clients for safety, negotiate boundaries such as condom use, and work in physically safer spaces. FOSTA threatens to take these essential survival tools away from sex workers. Doing so will not help victims of trafficking, but it will endanger some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. As my colleague Chase Strangio wrote: Whether because LGBT people – particularly those of color, transgender women, and youth – face job discrimination, family rejection, homelessness, and criminalization or because our bodies and desires are at once demonized and exoticized, our community has long-turned to the sex industry for critical means of support and survival. Eliminating sex trafficking and protecting those who are the victims of it is an important effort and one that Congress should address, but doing so in a way that makes sex workers more vulnerable to violence and exploitation is unacceptable. Rather than advance FOSTA, members of Congress should – as our partners urged in their letter – sit down with key stakeholders, including sex workers and survivors of trafficking, to develop legislation that would e[...]