Does Santa Claus visit immigration detention facilities?

By Molly Tack-Hooper, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Santa-Claus-Sad-icon

This holiday season, there are 41 children incarcerated at Berks County Residential Center, an immigration detention center in Leesport, Pennsylvania. Some of these little detainees are toddlers. The youngest is just one year old. This year they’ll find out whether Santa can make it past security at a federal detention center.

Many of these children came to the United States with their mothers seeking refuge from the horrific violence that they suffered in Central America, and have already passed a “credible fear” determination, meaning there is a good chance that they will be granted asylum, giving them legal status to stay in the U.S.

In past years, the Department of Homeland Security typically would have released these families to stay with relatives in the United States as their immigration cases proceeded. Releasing asylum-seekers makes sense; Toy Drive families seeking asylum don’t need to be put in jail. Rarely do these women and children pose a threat to anyone, and they have every incentive to show up for court to pursue their asylum claims.

But now, instead of releasing these families as they await their asylum hearings, DHS chooses to imprison all of them, shipping them off to one of the newly created federal family detention centers around the country—the Berks Center in Pennsylvania, another facility in Karnes, Texas, and a brand new, larger facility in Dilley, Texas.

The Obama administration adopted this policy of categorically denying release to all asylum-seekers from Central America as “an aggressive deterrence strategy” after an increase this past summer in the number of Central American mothers and children coming to the United States. The idea is that keeping these mothers and children locked up for the duration of their immigration proceedings—no matter how unnecessary, no matter how unfair, no matter how traumatizing—will deter other Central American families from seeking refuge in the United States, reducing the overall number of Central American asylum-seekers. In other words, the 41 children at Berks are pawns.

The ACLU filed a class action lawsuit Tuesday challenging DHS’s “no-release” deterrence policy as a violation of federal immigration law and the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of due process, both of which prohibit the blanket detention of asylum-seekers for deterrence purposes.

But for the 41 children currently detained at Berks County Residential Center, litigation is far too slow a fix when Christmas is just days away. The children who are old enough to write have written letters to Santa, hopeful that he can bring them a little bit of Christmas joy behind bars.

Rather than leave matters to Santa, I reached out to Carol Anne Donohoe, an immigrants’ rights advocate who represents many of the families detained at the Berks Center, who connected me with the Center’s Recreation Supervisor, Sandy Schlessman, to help Sandy organize a toy drive for the 41 children at Berks. The Berks Toy Drive registry contains a range of age-appropriate gifts approved by the detention center and reflect what many of the children at Berks asked for in their letters to Santa. There is also a toy drive for the children detained at Karnes, Texas, organized by a local church in partnership with Immigration & Customs Enforcement.

Word has already spread around the Berks Center that Santa is coming, and the children are very excited, so please give generously to help brighten their holiday season. At ACLU offices in New York, California, Washington, DC, Texas, and here in Pennsylvania, we’ll be doing our part this December—and all the rest of the year—to ensure that the Berks Center and other federal family detention centers don’t have to become regular stops on Santa’s route.

Molly-Tack-HooperMolly Tack-Hooper started at the ACLU of Pennsylvania as a volunteer legal fellow in 2010-2011 and returned in 2013 as a staff attorney focusing on civil liberties issues arising in Central Pennsylvania and on immigrants’ rights.

A New Dawn for Immigrants?

By Molly Tack-Hooper, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Pennsylvania

(Obama Intends to Regularize Status of Millions Illegal Immigrants in America. credit: http://thespeaker.co/)

(credit: http://thespeaker.co/)

Last week, President Obama rolled out significant changes to his administration’s immigration enforcement program with a televised announcement and a series of Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) memos detailing the changes. Since then, immigrants’ rights advocates have been poring over the memos trying to determine whether they foretell a new dawn for immigration enforcement or more of the same misguided and destructive immigration enforcement practices that for years have torn apart families at an alarming rate.

Not all of the announcements were good. The President announced that he will continue to pour resources into policing the southern border by further bulking up the largest law enforcement agency in the country—Customs and Border Protection—which has an appalling track record of violence without accountability.

But the new policies do contain much to celebrate, like executive actions that could temporarily shield more than 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation by expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and offering new relief from deportation for certain immigrant parents with children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

Among other positive changes, President Obama announced policies ending the controversial Secure Communities (“S-COMM”) program and constraining immigration authorities’ much-criticized use of ICE detainers. S-COMM is dead, to be replaced by something called the Priority Enforcement Program (“PEP”). It remains to be seen, however, just how much the problems that plagued S-COMM will persist under PEP.

Havoc Wreaked by S-COMM and Detainers
Secure Communities was, at its core, a program of collaboration between federal immigration authorities and local law enforcement agencies that used local resources to identify people subject to deportation. Under Secure Communities, every time anyone was arrested and booked by a police agency, their fingerprints were run through DHS’s immigration database. The lynchpin of S-COMM was the ICE detainer (or “immigration hold”), a request from ICE to a local law enforcement agency to imprison someone in custody past the time when they would otherwise be released from the criminal justice system in order to give ICE extra time to investigate the person’s immigration status. Although Secure Communities was intended to focus immigration enforcement resources on people with serious criminal convictions, in reality, S-COMM ensnared non-citizens from all backgrounds, fueling the mass deportation of valuable members of society and ripping apart families. Deportations reached record highs on President Obama’s watch.

The ACLU’s Detainer Litigation and Advocacy
The ACLU has long had concerns about the myriad civil liberties problems posed by S-COMM and ICE detainers. In March 2014, I testified at a Philadelphia City Council hearing that ICE detainers are often issued without any legal basis, can lead to racial profiling, and undermine trust in the police, threatening everyone’s safety.

In Pennsylvania, the kind of routine collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration officers engendered by S-COMM led to the illegal 3-day imprisonment in Lehigh County Prison of Ernesto Galarza, a U.S. citizen born in New Jersey, on an immigration detainer. After he was arrested on criminal charges (of which he was later acquitted), local police racially profiled him as being an undocumented immigrant and notified ICE of his arrest. ICE then issued a detainer to give itself more time to investigate Mr. Galarza’s immigration status. So when Mr. Galarza posted bail, instead of being released and reunited with his family, he was held for 3 more days, without any explanation or any opportunity to demonstrate his U.S. citizenship.

The ACLU and ACLU of Pennsylvania sued, and on March 4, 2014, won a huge victory when the Third Circuit became the first federal Court of Appeals to rule that local agencies do not have to comply with ICE detainer requests, and can be held liable for their role in causing an unlawful detention when there is no constitutionally valid basis for the detainer. In light of that ruling, in April 2014, Lehigh County paid Mr. Galarza $95,000 to settle his case and agreed to adopt a policy of no longer honoring ICE detainers without a court order.

Shortly after the Galarza ruling, Mayor Nutter issued an executive order directing Philadelphia facilities not to honor any ICE detainer requests without a judicial warrant. In August 2014, the ACLU-PA, working with PICC, Juntos, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, and NDLON, wrote to county officials all over the commonwealth to alert them to the court ruling in Galarza and urge them to adopt local policies of declining ICE detainer requests that are not accompanied by a judicial warrant. At last count, 40% of the counties in Pennsylvania reported that their facilities will no longer honor ICE detainer requests without a court order.

The End of S-COMM and Routine Detainers
Last week, the President acknowledged the many failings of S-COMM and the problematic use of detainers and discontinued Secure Communities:

“[S-COMM] has become a symbol for general hostility toward the enforcement of our immigration laws. Governors, mayors, and state and local law enforcement officials around the country have increasingly refused to cooperate with the program, and many have issued executive orders or signed laws prohibiting such cooperation. A number of federal courts have rejected the authority of state and local law enforcement agencies to detain immigrants pursuant to federal detainers issued under the current Secure Communities program.”

Under the new executive action, S-COMM will be replaced by the “Priority Enforcement Program” (or “PEP”). S-COMM and PEP have some features in common. Importantly, fingerprint-sharing of all arrestees with DHS for immigration enforcement purposes will continue under PEP—without any limitations. And DHS can still ask local law enforcement agencies and jails for notification when a non-citizen is scheduled to be released from local custody. But when it comes to actually issuing detainers and taking non-citizens into federal custody for immigration proceedings, PEP appears to constrain federal agents in ways that S-COMM did not.

According to DHS, under PEP, ICE will seek to transfer from local custody into immigration detention only certain “priority” non-citizens, including anyone believed by ICE to pose a threat to national security, as well as people engaged in terrorism or gang activity or convicted of certain crimes (any non-immigration-related felonies or a significant misdemeanor or 3 or more non-immigration-related misdemeanors). Further, under PEP, ICE is only permitted to issue detainers asking for a local agency to detain someone for ICE in “special circumstances” and only if the person is subject to a final order of removal or ICE has “other sufficient probable cause” to believe that the person is deportable.

DHS has yet to clarify the exact contours of ICE’s marching orders under these new policies; the policy memos are susceptible to several interpretations. And only time will tell how PEP is actually implemented. But the President’s acknowledgement that our immigration system badly needs fixing and that S-COMM was a failure—and his efforts to try to fix what he can—are welcome signs of change.

Molly-Tack-Hooper Molly Tack-Hooper started at the ACLU of Pennsylvania as a volunteer legal fellow in 2010-2011 and returned in 2013 as a staff attorney focusing on civil liberties issues arising in Central Pennsylvania and on immigrants’ rights.

Victory! PA House conservatives, liberals, moderates team up against expansion of DNA collection

By Paul Anderson, Larry Frankel Legislative Fellow, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Harrisburg Capitol

For the second consecutive legislative session, a bill that would greatly expand when law enforcement could collect your DNA has failed to pass in the state legislature. The bill would have invested a lot of additional money into the existing state DNA database, and more alarmingly, it would have required state police to collect DNA samples from individuals who were arrested for specific crimes, even if they were never actually charged.

The new collection would have been introduced gradually, covering only people arrested on suspicion of murder in the first year of implementation before expanding to felony sexual offenses in the second. By the third year, however, the mandate expands to arrestees of ALL felonies and certain specified misdemeanors. Even if an arrestee was never charged (let alone convicted) of the crime, the DNA sample would remain in the database unless the person filed a written request for removal and the request was granted.

We strongly opposed this bill. It almost goes without saying that everyone has an expectation that his or her genetic makeup will not be extracted and stored in a government database. To allow the police to collect and store DNA evidence even before charges have been filed violates this bedrock principle of privacy that is crystallized in the Fourth Amendment. (See – Our Work: In The Legislature)

Supporters of this bill got a win in the United States Supreme Court in 2013, when the court upheld Maryland’s arrestee DNA collection procedure as an adequate identification procedure. We—and many other groups and individuals—disagreed with the court’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment and were incredibly cynical about the claim that arrestee DNA collection was primarily used for identification and not investigation, but because they ultimately interpret the Bill of Rights, our tactic had to change slightly. We were prepared to make a case that even if arrestee DNA collection is permissible under the Fourth Amendment, it still violates the search and seizure provision of the state constitution. The PA Supreme Court has articulated some scenarios where the state constitution affords a higher level of protection that the Fourth Amendment, but it can be a difficult argument to make and sell to legislators.

Fortunately, we never really had to make that argument. DNA collection expansion provoked strong opposition in the House, as numerous representatives expressed serious concerns about how this bill would encroach on people’s privacy. The opposition was truly bipartisan—members who could be described as very conservative, very liberal, or moderate all expressed their disapproval of such an extreme expansion of law enforcement’s power, and many of the representatives who helped defeat the bill in the 2011-12 session were willing to stand once again against the proposed DNA expansion. This opposition encouraged us greatly, and when it became clear that House Leadership was not going to act on the Senate bill, we were optimistic that the fight might be over.

In the final two weeks, however, the Senate revived DNA expansion by amending it into an unrelated online impersonation bill that the House had already passed. This was the Senate’s Hail Mary pass, as it hoped enough House members would be supportive of the online impersonation bill to overlook the DNA language that had been added.

Fortunately, our House allies came through for us again. After the bill passed the Senate, the House Rules Committee quietly removed the DNA amendment as violating the state constitution’s Single Subject Clause before there was any opportunity to debate the substance of the DNA amendment itself. With that, the House ended any fear that the arrestee DNA collection bill would pass this session.

The last two sessions have made it clear that there is definitely motivation within Senate leadership to expand DNA collection within the commonwealth, so we may have to fight a bill like this again next year. Hopefully, the failure to pass the bill in two consecutive sessions sends a strong message to the Senate that this is not a policy that the people of Pennsylvania support, but if the Senate remains insistent that this bill should pass, then those of us in Harrisburg next session will continue our efforts to lobby against this bill and any other proposed policy that would dramatically encroach on the privacy rights of Pennsylvanians.


Paul Anderson is the 2014-15 Larry Frankel Legislative Fellow at the ACLU of Pennsylvania and a third year student at Penn State Dickinson School of Law.

U.S. Army Veteran Jailed by Immigration Authorities for Nearly 1,000 Days

By Molly Tack-Hooper, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Pennsylvania

York County Prison: Male Wing (source: www.informationng.com)

York County Prison: Male Wing (source: www.informationng.com)

Jose Juan Chavez-Alvarez had a day in court on Tuesday — or his attorneys did, anyway. He wasn’t there, because he has been detained by immigration authorities at York County Prison for 2 years, 5 months, and 15 days (and counting) without a bond hearing while his complex immigration case makes its way through the courts.

Mr. Chavez-Alvarez is a far cry from a “flight risk.” He came to the U.S. as a toddler nearly 40 years ago, and became a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. at 15. He honorably served in the U.S. Army for nearly a decade, earning several medals and achievement certificates. Today Mr. Chavez-Alvarez is a father to two teenage U.S. citizen sons, and he owns his home in Central Pennsylvania.

In 2000, while he was stationed in South Korea in the military, he was court-martialed and pled guilty to four non-violent military offenses related to a sexual encounter he had with a female service member following a night of drinking. He served his sentence of thirteen months for these military offenses. His criminal record is otherwise spotless.

Nonetheless, on June 5, 2012, ICE agents showed up at his home early in the morning to arrest him, alleging that he was deportable because of his military infractions more than a decade earlier.

He has been locked up at York County Prison ever since that morning. Mr. Chavez-Alvarez has now been in immigration detention for 898 days — more than twice as long as he spent in jail for his military offenses.

His immigration case is a strong one. There are several reasons why, his lawyer argues, he shouldn’t be deported.

So why is someone like Mr. Chavez-Alvarez with strong communities ties, who is not facing criminal charges or serving a sentence, and who may be fully entitled to stay in the U.S. languishing in jail?

A federal “mandatory detention” statute requires certain non-citizens in removal proceedings to be imprisoned while their immigration cases proceed. Because of this “mandatory detention” requirement, Mr. Chavez-Alvarez hasn’t had a bond hearing since he was whisked out of his home on the morning of June 5, 2012. He’s never had a chance to put up bail or prove that he’s not going to skip town before his immigration proceedings conclude.

This “mandatory detention” statute that has kept Mr. Chavez-Alvarez in immigration detention for nearly two and a half years now was never intended to authorize this kind of prolonged detention, said the Court of Appeals in 2011 in Diop, another ACLU case. To avoid constitutional problems, the court interpreted the statute to only authorize detention without a bond hearing for a “reasonable” initial period of detention. As the Supreme Court has noted, the length of detention contemplated by Congress when it passed this “mandatory detention” statute was between 1.5 and 5 months; when detention is prolonged beyond that threshold, it becomes increasingly constitutionally “suspect.”

But since the 2011 Diop decision, the government has not agreed to give a single non-citizen a bond hearing – even though many of them have been in immigration detention for years.

On Tuesday, Mr. Chavez-Alvarez’s lawyer and the ACLU as amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) urged the Court of Appeals to provide guidance to the lower courts and the government by ruling that there should be a presumption that immigration detainees get a bond hearing after 6 months of mandatory detention so a court can make an individualized determination about whether it is necessary to continue imprisoning people like Mr. Chavez-Alvarez during his legal proceedings.

As the ACLU told the court on Tuesday, because immigration proceedings are often long, drawn-out affairs – especially where the non-citizens have novel or complex claims about their right to remain in the U.S. – prolonged mandatory detention often discourages non-citizens from pursuing avenues of relief from deportation that they’re entitled to, because asserting your rights means spending years in jail – even if you win. Non-citizens shouldn’t have to accept years of imprisonment without a bond hearing as a condition of asserting their legal rights. No one should.

Arguing Tuesday on behalf of Mr. Chavez-Alvarez was former ACLU-PA staff attorney Valerie Burch. Michael Tan, from the national ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, argued on behalf of the ACLU and ACLU of Pennsylvania as amici curiae.

Molly-Tack-HooperMolly Tack-Hooper started at the ACLU of Pennsylvania as a volunteer legal fellow in 2010-2011 and returned in 2013 as a staff attorney focusing on civil liberties issues arising in Central Pennsylvania and on immigrants’ rights.

What the ACLU of Pennsylvania did for Victims’ Rights

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Lakisha Briggs, victim of Domestic Violence

While officials in the Corbett administration were busy talking about Mumia Abu-Jamal to every microphone they could find, the ACLU of Pennsylvania spent the last two weeks of the legislative session working quietly with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence to pass a bill that will help keep victims of crime in their homes.

The passage of House Bill 1796 was one of the glowing civil liberties achievements of the 2013-14 legislative session at the General Assembly. The new law prohibits municipalities from punishing victims of crime for calling for emergency services. It was motivated by our litigation against the borough of Norristown, in Montgomery County, in which our client, Lakisha Briggs, was threatened with eviction under the borough’s “nuisance property” ordinance. Lakisha was tormented on multiple occasions by her ex-boyfriend. After emergency services were called to her home a third time, an incident that included her ex stabbing her in the neck with a shard of glass, the borough employed the ordinance to begin eviction proceedings against Lakisha and her family.

We argued in our lawsuit that the people have a First Amendment right to call upon their government for help.

Even with that backdrop, the passage of this bill almost didn’t happen.

After we filed our litigation, Representative Todd Stephens, a Republican from Montgomery County who is also a former assistant district attorney, introduced HB 1796. Rep. Stephens convened key stakeholders, including PCADV, ACLU-PA, housing advocates, and the associations that represent municipalities, to hammer out language that everyone could agree to and that achieved what we wanted. That agreed-to language passed the state House unanimously.

When the bill arrived in the state Senate, however, it was nearly derailed by unrelated amendments that were sought by the Pennsylvania Retailers Association, the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, and the National Rifle Association. (More about that drama here.)

On the Senate’s second-to-last day of session, HB 1796 was saved from those unwanted amendments when Senator Vincent Hughes, a Democrat from Philadelphia, successfully used a procedural motion called “revert to the prior printer’s number.” In English, this means the bill goes back to a previous form. In this case, Senator Hughes wanted to go back to the version of the bill that passed the House. That motion passed, 26-22, with six Republicans joining 20 Democrats in voting for the motion.

That wasn’t the end of the drama, though. When the Senate calendar was released the next day, the chamber’s final day of session for the year, the bill was marked “over,” meaning it would not get a vote and would not pass this session, forcing us to go back to the beginning of the process next year. While allies like the Women’s Law Project and others got the word out to grassroots supporters around the state, lobbyists from PCADV, especially, and ACLU-PA worked the halls of the capitol to convince Senate Republicans that this was a good vote to hold and that this bill was important.

Ultimately, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi called up the bill for a final vote. And, to his credit, Senator John Eichelberger, who introduced one of the unrelated amendments sought by the restaurants and the retailers, spoke in favor of the bill on the Senate floor. It passed unanimously.

Governor Corbett signed the bill yesterday, so he literally lifted a finger to help.
This was truly a bipartisan, bicameral, multi-organization effort. The real credit goes to everyone I’ve named above- Representative Stephens, Senator Hughes, Senator Pileggi, the 26 senators who voted for Hughes’ motion. And the most credit goes to our friends at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who struggled for this bill until the very last day and who wouldn’t let it pass with unwanted amendments.

Now people who are victims of crime, like Lakisha Briggs, know that they can call for help when they need it. They don’t have to choose between emergency service from their government or keeping their homes.

——-

Andy Hoover Andy Hoover is responsible for the ACLU-PA’s lobbying efforts at the state level in Harrisburg and at the federal level in Washington, D.C. From 2004 to 2008, he was a community organizer for ACLU-PA and is an experienced advocate, cutting his teeth in the anti-death penalty movement during the Ridge-Schweiker administration. Andy also serves on the boards of directors of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and The Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania.

It’s Free Speech Week! So how did Pennsylvania celebrate?

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

(13th and Locust, Philadelphia, PA. October 21, 2014, credit: Ben Bowens)

(13th and Locust, Philadelphia, PA. October 21, 2014, credit: Ben Bowens)

Free Speech Week is October 20-26. Here in the commonwealth, Governor Tom Corbett celebrated by signing a bill that allows courts to censor speech before it happens.

Wait, huh? What?

On Tuesday, Corbett signed the so-called “Revictimization Relief Act,” or what I’ve taken to calling the Free Speech Decimation Act. Perhaps it would be better to title it the Fund the Lawyers Act.

Senate Bill 508 allows a district attorney or the Attorney General or the victim of a “personal injury” crime to seek an order from a civil court to block the “conduct” of a person with a criminal conviction if the conduct “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” That phrase is defined as “conduct which causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.”

If you know what that is, please drop us a line.

This new law is riddled with free speech problems. It is government censorship of speech that powerful people do not want to hear. Any person with a criminal conviction, whether he is currently incarcerated or was released years or decades earlier, would have his ability to speak publicly about his experience, the criminal justice system, or any unknown thing effectively chilled. Why speak up when there is a chance you’ll be hauled into civil court?

On numerous occasions, people with criminal convictions have spoken at press conferences and have testified at hearings at the state capitol. This new law chills that type of advocacy. If this law had been in effect a few years ago, would we know the story of Stacey Torrance, who is serving life-without-parole? Stacey was 14 when he participated in a robbery that ended in murder. The victim was killed 24 hours after Stacey left the scene of the robbery.

Would we know the story of Edwin Desamour, who at 16 faced the death penalty, was ultimately convicted of third-degree homicide, and served eight and a half years in prison? After his release, Edwin helped found Men in Motion in the Community, or MIMIC, to work with at-risk boys in Philadelphia.

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What happens to the Pennsylvania Prison Society’s publication Graterfriends? The Prison Society offers inmates an outlet to write about their personal experiences and about public policy issues.

All of this valuable speech is potentially chilled by this new law.

The General Assembly passed this bill in record time after Mumia Abu-Jamal gave a recorded speech to 20 graduates of Goddard College in Vermont. In the speech, Abu-Jamal made no mention of the crime for which he was convicted, the shooting death of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, and only briefly alludes to being on death row. You can read or listen to the speech here.

A reporter asked me the other day if it is difficult advocating for the rights of people who are deeply disliked. I replied that we wouldn’t need the First Amendment if we only allowed popular speech. The right to free speech exists to ensure that even unpopular ideas or unpopular people are heard.

The answer to speech you don’t like is more speech to counter it, not government censorship. We look forward to discussing the First Amendment with the commonwealth in a court of law.

Protect Pennsylvania’s Pregnant Workers

By Julie Zaebst, Project Manager, Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project
Pregnant
Anyone who has been pregnant or accompanied a partner through pregnancy knows it’s not always easy, even under the best circumstances. When my partner was pregnant with our son last year, she was perfectly healthy and had what you would call an “easy pregnancy.” But still, her lifestyle changed (and mine along with it!). At work, my partner ate small snacks throughout the day, used the restroom more often, and stood up to stretch and walk around every now and then. That’s what she needed to do to stay healthy.

But imagine having to choose between a healthy pregnancy and your job – right at the moment when your income and your employer-sponsored health insurance (if you’re lucky enough to have it) are most important. Too many pregnant women, especially those in low-wage or physically demanding jobs, are put in that position because their employers refuse to accommodate pregnant women in the same way that they routinely accommodate other workers, including those who are injured on the job or are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). And unfortunately some courts have agreed that this is OK.

In many cases, pregnant women need simple job modifications to be able to continue to work – more frequent restroom breaks, a stool to sit on, or permission to carry a water bottle. In some cases, they may need to be put on light duty. But by definition, these are temporary accommodations. Studies show that accommodating pregnancy-related conditions is typically low-cost and low-effort. And there are big benefits for employers, including increased worker productivity and retention.

Recognizing these benefits for employees and employers, Pittsburgh City Council passed two common-sense measures designed to protect pregnant women in the workplace. One measure clarifies that discrimination based on sex includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition. This strengthens anti-discrimination protections for pregnant workers. The other measure requires many city contractors to provide reasonable accommodations to enable pregnant women to continue in their jobs, unless this would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

Unfortunately, Pittsburgh City Council doesn’t have the authority under state law to expand protections to pregnant women who work for private employers. Now, it’s up to the state legislature to step in and pass the Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would provide coverage to more women in Pittsburgh and protect women in other parts of the state as well. This must be a priority when the legislature reconvenes in the new year.

In 2014, it should not be news to anyone that women are in the workforce, and they are often the sole or primary breadwinners for their families. It’s time for the law to catch up with reality and protect pregnant workers from having to make an impossible choice. Pennsylvania women should not be forced to choose between their health and their livelihood anymore.

Julie Zaebst joined the ACLU-PA in July 2014, bringing more than 10 years of experience as a program manager and advocate.

Meet John Frisbee, Major Gifts Officer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania

John Frisbee

John Frisbee

John K. Frisbee arrives at the ACLU from Pig Iron Theatre Company, where he served as Managing Director (and previously as Director of Development.) During John’s tenure, Pig Iron won two Village Voice OBIE Awards, opened a two-year graduate program for performers in Philadelphia, and saw extraordinary growth, doubling in budget size during this time. He has previously worked at the Walnut Street Theatre and the Rosenbach Museum & Library. John is a member of the Board of Directors of Shakespeare in Clark Park, and has been a grant panelist for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. He graduated from Haverford College in 2003 with a B.A. in English, and completed the Fundraising Certificate program at Villanova University.

Why is working with the ACLU of Pennsylvania important to you?

If I could name one thing that consistently allows democracies to work, it would be a legal architecture that protects people who are in the minority – folks who belong to disempowered classes or races, who voice unpopular sentiments, or who tell uncomfortable truths. It’s a real delight to be in a position to support an organization which has been defending (and in many cases, building) this legal architecture for as long as the ACLU has.

What civil liberties issue are you most passionate about? Why?

Right now, I feel pretty compelled by the ACLU’s work in defending individuals using mobile devices to film police activity. This seems to me to be the essence of what’s great about the organization – an insistence on being in the vanguard. We’re in a new technological moment, where “evidence-gathering” is becoming more democratized, and the ACLU is stepping in to protect this new territory. You can’t ever stay still and do the same-old same-old, because new manifestations of civil liberty (and, inevitably, new challenges to them) appear all the time.

Do you have any hobbies? What do you do for fun?

I don’t have any skill-based hobbies – I can’t carve a canoe from a tree trunk, or take a mind-blowingly excellent photo, or anything like that. (My lack of fine-motor coordination took me out of the running for most of those activities from the start, sadly.)

I’ve made up for this with a surplus of interests; I can’t do anything traditionally thought of as “useful”, but I can tell you where to see a really cool contemporary dance performance, or recite from memory the on-base percentage of the Phillies’ backup catcher, or discuss the relative merits of “Boyhood” vs. “Guardians of the Galaxy” as 2014’s best summer movie. If you’re in need of that sort of thing, that is.

Tell us something about yourself our supporters might find interesting:

I’m also a pretty dedicated hiker, and over the last few years, I’ve started climbing the highest mountain in each US state (remarkably, there are other
people who do this). I like it because it’s a way of taking trips to parts of the country you might not see otherwise (like Minnesota’s Superior coast, or the tip of the Oklahoma panhandle, to name two favorites), and because there’s something undoubtedly awesome about a destination list that involves both Mount Rainier (a 14,000-foot glacier-covered volcano) and the highest point in Delaware (a nondescript traffic intersection in suburban Wilmington.) As of today, I’ve done 22 states – so, almost halfway there.

Volunteer Spotlight: Arianna Henry

Arianna Henry

What do you do as a volunteer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?

This summer, I volunteered in the Intake Department, also affectionately known as “ACL2.” In Intake, my fellow volunteers and I would field the numerous legal complaints that our office received on a daily basis. Reading letters, returning phone calls, and trying our best to help who we could was all in a day’s work.

How did you first get involved with the ACLU of Pennsylvania (How did you hear about us)?

I was already aware of the great work that the ACLU did around the country, but I didn’t know that I had the opportunity to make a difference locally by volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. I came across the position on the website, and I am so happy that I did.

How long have you volunteered with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?

I only had this summer available before I head back up to Boston for school, so I worked full-time for about three months to make sure that my service had an impact.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?

When I am not volunteering at the ACLU, I am a full-time student. I am a Clinical Psychology and Child Development double major.

Why is volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania important to you?

My position at the ACLU of PA is important because it gives me an opportunity to speak personally with Pennsylvanians who are affected by injustices and do what I can to help. These interactions with complainants have widened my knowledge about the many threats to our constitutional rights, and have sparked a new, deeper passion for defending our freedoms.

What civil liberties issue are you most passionate about? Why?

I am probably most passionate about over-incarceration and the flawed, unconstitutional use of solitary confinement in our prison system. I believe that the entire criminal justice system needs to be reevaluated and overhauled, and I am very proud of the work that the ACLU of Pennsylvania is doing to bring justice to those in the system.

Do you have any hobbies? What do you do for fun?

This summer, when I wasn’t volunteering I was enjoying all that the local area has to offer while I am home. I would explore the city, and enjoy the world’s best hoagies in historical parks. On weekends, I would hit the boardwalk and go down the Jersey shore, and I even made a few trips into Lancaster to check out the farmer’s markets and fantastic foods of Amish Country.

Tell us something about yourself our supporters might find interesting:

FUN FACT: I was the self- appointed “Official Fun Fact Distributor of ACL2” for the summer of 2014.

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If you are interested in volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please visit: aclupa.org/volunteer