An Open Letter to the Pennsylvania Trans Community from the ACLU of Pennsylvania

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It’s a scary time for many communities. It is an especially harrowing time for those who are disproportionately affected by bigotry, structural and institutional racism, and other types of discrimination. We are in awe of those of you who are sharing your stories during Transgender Awareness Week and coming together in your communities for the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

I know personally what it means to have to fight for recognition and respect. I know what it feels like to run up against bias, discrimination and institutional barriers as so many of you do. I also know that I have benefited from cisgender privilege, given the issues that the LGBT movement historically has prioritized. The LGBT movement – and, honestly, my own organization – has not always centered the experiences of trans people and the issues facing your communities. We must do better.

In the wake of a devastating election for trans rights and in honor of Transgender Awareness Week, I want to make clear that the ACLU of Pennsylvania stands in support of Pennsylvania’s trans communities. We commit to lifting up your voices and experiences and priorities for change. We will fight for you and with you in the months and years to come.

The indomitable spirit and resilience of trans communities inspire ACLU-PA to become an ally you can count on in all times, good and bad. We are here for you.

In solidarity,
Reggie Shuford
Executive Director
ACLU of Pennsylvania

The Federal Government Steps Up to Protect Survivors of Domestic Abuse From Eviction

By Sandra Park, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Women’s Rights Project

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Tonya Lee* and her two children had been living in their Maryland apartment complex for five years when her boyfriend became enraged during an argument and stabbed her and her older son. After the police arrested him, her landlord sent her a notice: They were evicting her because of the violence. Her lease included a standard provision authorizing eviction of tenants when there is criminal activity in their homes.

Domestic violence survivors shouldn’t face eviction just because the crime takes place in their home. The ACLU has been advocating for 15 years to establish survivors’ rights to stay in their homes after reporting domestic violence and sexual assault. Those rights are now a reality for millions of people across the country.

Today I was part of a forum with Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro at which he announced three housing reforms that will help protect victims like Tonya from losing their homes. Speaking at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence conference in Chandler, Arizona, Castro announced new regulations from HUD that guarantee survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking protection from eviction from federally funded housing. The regulations, which carry out housing rights created by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), apply to privately owned affordable housing developed with tax credits, public housing, and Section 8 housing. The regulations also state that housing providers must develop policies that offer emergency transfer options for survivors who need to move to another location for safety reasons.

Survivors also often confront local nuisance, or crime-free, ordinances. These ordinances exist around the country and penalize tenants for calling 911 for criminal activity at their home, even when they are the victims. For example, Nancy Markham was nearly kicked out of her Surprise, Arizona, home after calling the police for protection from domestic violence. There was a city ordinance that treated 911 calls as “nuisances” that could lead to eviction.

After advocacy by the ACLU and our partners, HUD issued new guidance explaining that local nuisance ordinances can violate the Fair Housing Act because they so often penalize domestic violence victims who call 911. The guidance calls on cities to get rid of such ordinances to promote fair housing for domestic violence and other crime victims.

HUD also finalized regulations that for the first time explain how the Fair Housing Act prohibits sexual, racial, and other forms of harassment in housing. Such protections are vital to prevent the experiences of women like Yolanda Boswell, whose real estate manager repeatedly offered to reduce her rent in exchange for sex. When she refused, he raised her rent and threatened to evict her. We later learned that he similarly harassed several other women. Just as employers can be held accountable for harassment in the workplace, the regulations spell out how property owners and landlords are responsible when they fail to address harassment committed by their agents.

The ACLU represented Tonya, Nancy, and Yolanda as they successfully fought housing discrimination. But millions of people have faced the loss of their housing because they are victims of domestic and sexual violence. They may feel trapped and endure further violence to avoid homelessness.

PEOPLE SHOULD BE SAFE IN THEIR OWN HOMES

KEEP THEM SAFEThese latest housing reforms bring us one step closer to a world where everyone’s home is a sanctuary. Survivors of violence cannot truly be free without being able to obtain and keep safe housing. And the right to fair housing must not only include having a roof over one’s head, but also living free from violence and abuse.

*Tonya Lee is a pseudonym.

This blog is cross-posted on the ACLU’s blog Speak Freely.

Anti-Sanctuary Policies: When State Law Interferes with Public Safety and Your Civil Liberties

By Amanda Cappelletti, Frankel Legislative Fellow, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Immigrants' rights - ICE officer badge

Immigrants’ rights – ICE officer badge

Currently, the Pennsylvania Senate is considering a bill to punish municipalities in the Commonwealth that don’t go along with the unconstitutional actions of federal immigration authorities. To achieve this, House Bill 1885 would hold a so-called “sanctuary municipality” open to civil lawsuits for the actions of individual residents. It also withholds all state money from these cities and municipalities, such as funding for drug and alcohol treatment, domestic violence centers, and other essential services that municipalities provide.

Let’s be clear: There is no such thing as a “sanctuary city.” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has jurisdiction everywhere in the United States. It is their job to enforce federal immigration law. Local governments have enough to worry about without the added burden of doing the feds’ job for them.

While there are many problems with this bill, one of the most glaring is that it demonstrates a clear lack of knowledge about what sanctuary policies are and why we need them. Being in the country without immigration status is a civil offense investigated by ICE. If ICE believes local law enforcement has an undocumented citizen in custody, they issue a detainer request. This asks local law enforcement to hold that person for 48 hours past their initial release date and time.

Sanctuary policies support public safety and policing goals. Witnesses and victims of crime are more likely to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement authorities when they do not have the threat of deportation looming over them. Simply put, sanctuary policies are a way of building trust between law enforcement agents and the communities they serve. When that trust is established, police are better able to pursue all criminals, making the immediate and surrounding communities safer.

Perhaps not as glaring, but certainly more pressing is the fact that HB 1885 blatantly ignores the constitutional consequences of complying with ICE detainers. Detainers are issued by ICE agents, without any authorization or oversight by a judge or other neutral decision makers. They are not supported by probable cause or any actual evidence at all. Without the constitutionally guaranteed safeguard of a warrant, detainers can and do lead to the illegal detention of individuals who have not violated any immigration laws and are not deportable. According to its own records, ICE has erroneously issued more than 800 detainers for U.S. citizens since 2008.

ICE detainers ask local law enforcement agents to blatantly violate civil liberties and act unconstitutionally by holding individuals without probable cause. As a result, numerous civil lawsuits claiming unreasonable search and seizure have been filed against municipalities and cities. Ultimately, federal courts have ruled that ICE detainers violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. One of the leading cases in this matter took place in Pennsylvania. Since Galarza, thirty-three counties have taken steps to ensure its citizens’ constitutional rights are protected, and have policies to NOT honor ICE detainer requests.

HB 1885 is so poorly written that it even includes a fictional legal standard. The bill requires law enforcement to inquire into the immigration status of someone they’ve arrested if they have “reasonable cause” that the person is in the country without authorization. “Reasonable cause” is not a legal standard. Despite three committee votes and one vote on the floor of the state House, no one in the General Assembly has bothered to fix this obvious flaw.

And that provision- carried out in a worst case scenario- could encourage police departments to engage in racial profiling and arrest people for petty offenses (like so-called disorderly conduct) for the sole purpose of checking their immigration status.

HB 1885 will fracture the already fragile trust between law enforcement and communities. It takes away a city or municipality’s much needed state funding, while also leaving it wide open for civil lawsuits from victims of unforeseen crime. If the municipality or city complies with HB 1885, it leaves itself open to violating the U.S. Constitution and the civil lawsuits which stem from that. No matter what way you look at it, HB 1885 hurts the citizens of our Commonwealth.


Amanda Cappelletti is the 2016–17 Frankel Legislative Fellow at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. She is also a fourth-year law student and a candidate for a master’s in public health at Temple University.

Meet Matthew Armstead — 2016/17 Frankel-Adair Scholar

The Frankel-Adair scholarship provides $1,500 in support of post-secondary education to an LGBT student residing in the Greater Philadelphia area.

The Frankel-Adair scholarship provides $1,500 in support of post-secondary education to an LGBT student residing in the Greater Philadelphia area.

1. How did you hear about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship?

I heard about the scholarship initially from Internet searches for LGBTQ-specific scholarships. When I was contemplating applying for the Frankel-Adair, I saw a printed poster for the scholarship at someone’s home during an organizing meeting. That’s when I knew I definitely should apply.

2. What, if any, was your connection to the ACLU prior to applying for the scholarship?

My connection with the ACLU was very limited before applying for the scholarship. When I worked at the LGBT Center at Princeton University almost every year I would organize a program with a speaker from the ACLU. Since the ACLU was so pivotal in the fights for marriage equality and trans rights in New Jersey, the ACLU staff was able of offer a long-term perspective on current issues. Also, Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s national Executive Director, is a Princeton alum, so he came back to speak for a couple of programs and really helped me to understand the scope of the ACLU’s work.

3. What were the most important events or influences that brought you to where you are today?

My second semester of college, I was asked to become the co-president of the queer student group. This was a daunting honor: I was new to school, barely knew the community, and had come out to my family less than a year earlier. Yet I took a risk, and said yes. People helped me along the way, and I learned so much about being myself as leader and building a community.

A theme that now echoes throughout my life is that community will catch me when I take a risk to be more in alignment with my calling. When I took this step to pursue a Master’s degree in Ensemble Devised Performance at the University of the Arts, this theme again rang true, and the Frankel-Adair scholarship roots my education in the LGBTQ community.

ACLU-PA Executive Director Reggie Shuford and 2016/17 Frankel-Adair Scholar Matthew Armstead.

4. What do you see as the critical issues facing the LGBTQ community at this time?

A critical issue facing the LGBTQ community in the United States is how to keep pursuing change after marriage-equality funding no longer supports as many organizations. This reality has pushed organizations to get more creative, while providing visibility for many of the concerns within the community from immigration to heath care.

Globally we are seeing that trans rights are increasingly in the forefront. I appreciate how this re-centers gender in the community narrative. Much of the violence against LGBTQ people comes when our behavior moves outside gendered expectations. And this issue of gender-policing affects trans and cis-gender people. Organizing that pushes for our unique genders to be recognized will benefit us all as it would mean an end police harassment, enactment of pay and hiring equity, and the implementation of fair housing policies.

5. Do you envision your own professional career having an impact on concerns of the LGBTQ community?

Working with LGBTQ people has been a regular part of my career, and I expect that to continue. The slogan “We are everywhere” still rings true, and I am excited as more LGBTQ people bring our identities and issues explicitly into movements for change.

6. What other social issues motivate you?

I care passionately about people who are pursuing social change across the world. On my mind at the moment are environmental activists in the Philippines who are facing increased repression, Colombian activists with disabilities who just broke ground at the United Nations, and folks in the Movement for Black Lives who successfully unseated the Florida prosecutor who convicted Marissa Alexander and failed to convict George Zimmerman. My work training change-makers through Training for Change allows me to stay involved in this range of movements.

7. What effect do you think being a recipient of the Frankel-Adair Scholarship will have on you?

I hope to share the gratitude I feel with ACLU members at events throughout the year. The scholarship has the LGBTQ community in the front of my mind, so I’ll be looking for ways to use theater and my facilitation skills to support the LGBTQ community in the region.

Learn more about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship and find out how you can apply!

Life After Becoming a Frankel-Adair Scholar

By D’Angelo Cameron, 2015 Frankel-Adair Scholarship Winner

D'Angelo Cameron

D’Angelo Cameron

On June 15th, 2015, I received the wonderful news that I was chosen to be one of two recipients of the Frankel-Adair Scholarship from the ACLU of Pennsylvania. The scholarship, awarded to LGBTQ youth who are pursuing post-secondary education in the greater Philadelphia area, is highly competitive, and the financial assistance provided by the award allowed me to pay for my last semester without worry. However, unbeknownst to me at the time, being awarded this scholarship would be the start of my most active year as a young leader living in Philadelphia, and eventually New York City.

I first learned about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship from the HRC’s LGBTQ School Scholarship Database. This was not my first time hearing about the ACLU, and specifically the Pennsylvania affiliate. I was familiar with the ACLU of Pennsylvania being present at Philadelphia’s LGBTQ centered events, like Pride and Outfest. It was during these moments I would take stacks of the ACLU’s Know Your Rights wallet cards for LGBTQ youth and distribute them to my peers who were interested in knowing their rights as students.

Shortly after receiving the award, I became vice president of Philadelphia Black Pride, one of the few organizations that create space and opportunity for social and economic equity for the city’s Black LGBTQ community. In this role, I organized one of the most successful convenings of healthcare providers in the city of Philadelphia to discuss access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, a once-a-day pill that has been proven to be extremely effective in preventing HIV infection. Organizing this summit came from my dedication to addressing health disparities that disproportionately affect young Black LGBTQ young people.

My work for social change outside of the classroom did not stop there. While in the first few weeks of my final semester of senior year, I received another opportunity to serve on the organizing committee of the Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative or YBGLI, a national group of young Black Gay, Bi-sexual, and Same Gender Loving (SGL) men who organize at the regional and federal level around issues that impact their peers such as HIV infection rates, HIV criminalization, homelessness, police violence, and others.

As a recipient of the Frankel-Adair scholarship I became more connected to the ACLU and therefore was alerted to opportunities that existed in the organization to become more involved. My invitation to the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s annual Bill Of Rights dinner was one such amazing opportunity that allowed me to connect with other young professionals in the region, as well as some nationally recognized personalities like New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow. Another was to be a Communications Assistant at the ACLU Foundation offices in New York City. Although it required moving from my home city of twenty-two years, I embraced the chance to work at the National office and learn from some of the best lawyers, communications professionals, and advocates for civil liberties.

It has been eight months since I moved to New York to work for the ACLU Foundation. Despite having to leave the board of Philadelphia Black Pride and other projects centered in Philadelphia, I’m quite confident that other young Black LGBTQ leaders will continue to drive the progressive and much needed work in the city. I’m still on the organizing committee of Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative, and we are quite busy with planning new projects for 2017. I could not have been more proud of how much I have accomplished and I give my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the Frankel-Adair Scholarship committee at the ACLU of Pennsylvania for helping me achieve my academic and leadership goals.

Lancaster refugee lawsuit: A whistleblower speaks out

By Matt Stroud, Criminal Justice Researcher/Writer, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Plaintiffs and their attorneys from ACLU-PA, Education Law Center and Pepper Hamilton, LLC.

Plaintiffs and their attorneys from ACLU-PA, Education Law Center and Pepper Hamilton, LLC.

Elise Chesson hadn’t been working more than a few weeks when she noticed refugee students were having trouble enrolling in the School District of Lancaster. Her testimony Wednesday offered further insights into how older refugee students in Lancaster, Pa. have been diverted away from a local public high school, the J.P. McCaskey Campus, and into Phoenix Academy, a disciplinary school run by private company Camelot Education.

In early December 2015, Chesson began as employment program manager for Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services in Lancaster, Pa. Among her responsibilities were refugee social services; she helped find education and employment options for refugees. That’s when she met 17-year-old Qasin Hassan.

A Somali refugee who’d come to Lancaster, with his family through Cairo, his documents showed that he neither spoke nor read English; Somali and Arabic were his means of communication. And he had no official education records.

When refugees arrive in the U.S., there’s typically a 90-day case management period when caseworkers like Chesson help them settle in, get accustomed to local culture, and acclimate to daily tasks such as going to the bank and buying groceries. Caseworkers are also often responsible for making sure they find a place to work or attend school.

Qasin had been in the U.S. for months and still wasn’t in school. The School District had thus far refused to enroll him.

Chesson took over the case from her colleague in late December and in her first contact with Qasin, school district officials doubled down on their refusal to enroll him. Administrators said, instead, that he should go to the local Literacy Council, a private organization, and take English classes there and get his GED instead.

Part of the reason for this decision, Chesson testified, was that the district official in charge of enrollment thought Qasin’s body language suggested he didn’t want to go to school.

Chesson responded by explaining that cultural barriers and differences might’ve suggested to SDOL administrators that Qasin didn’t want to go to school, but those were likely misinterpretations; Qasin wanted to go to school.

So Chesson continued to push for him. And eventually the district relented. They sent him to Phoenix Academy. Other options were not discussed — including the district’s public high school, McCaskey, which offered more English classes and a program called the “International School” specially tailored for newly arrived immigrants, like Qasin.

Other students in similar situations went to Chesson as well. She observed a pattern: older students with limited English language skills would experience delays being enrolled into SDOL. Or their enrollment would be denied outright. And when people like Chesson would speak out and push to get them enrolled, those kids would be sent to Phoenix Academy.

With a little research, Chesson learned that Phoenix wasn’t optimal. The students-to-teacher ratio at Phoenix was nearly four times the amount at McClaskey, for one. “Highly qualified teachers,” as defined by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, taught 92 percent of McCaskey classes, while 0 percent taught Phoenix classes. Phoenix did not offer Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes, and while 83 percent of McCaskey’s students were “college ready,” none were “college ready” at Phoenix.

Reading these stats, she asked to sit in on an orientation class at Phoenix. What she saw shocked her.

“I would have described it … like a detention center,” Chesson told the court Wednesday. Instead of emphasizing what kids would be taught, administrators emphasized how they would be disciplined — what tactics so-called “behavioral specialists” at the school would use to keep kids in line. They demonstrated “handle with care” tactics — which ended with kids being pressed face first against a “clean wall” with their hands restrained behind their backs. Phoenix administrators demonstrated this to the students at orientation — a gesture that amounted to an open threat.

“This was the first impression these kids were getting,” Chesson testified.

School administrators, she said, emphasized that “this is a school of last resort.”

They also discussed that there is no homework because students can’t bring anything into or out of the school. Girls weren’t even allowed to bring feminine hygiene products.

“Education did not appear to be a focus,” Chesson said.

“I was shocked. I was disappointed that these students who had been through so much were being placed in a school like this,” she said.

“We asked why they couldn’t go to international school at McCaskey,” Chesson said. “They just said, ‘This is how it is.’”

The pattern that had been established with Qasin and Khadidja, a seventeen-year-old refugee from Sudan who had been denied enrollment and then delayed admission to Phoenix for months, continued with more refugee students — delays, enrollment denials, then after extensive advocacy, they were reluctantly placed in Phoenix.

As time passed, Qasin went to school at Phoenix. Not only did he not receive adequate English language instruction, according to Chesson, he also found himself bullied — kids would yell at him, pull his hair, and use racial slurs against him. He eventually decided to stop going to school.

Qasin told her: ‘If you give me a choice between a prison and Phoenix Academy, I’ll choose a prison.”

Chesson is a lead witness in the case against SDOL. After more than two hours of testimony, it was revealed that her job was recently eliminated — and that she continues to advocate for refugee children to get an education, despite not being paid to do so. The district’s defense attorney, Sharon O’Donnell asked her about this — why she was still advocating on behalf of refugee students like Hassan and others when she had no official agency to represent.

“I don’t need an agency to advocate for what I feel is an injustice,” Chesson said.

In day one of Lancaster immigrant testimony, a broken school emerges

By Matt Stroud, Criminal Justice Researcher/Writer, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Alembe and Anyemu Dumia

ACLU of Pennsylvania clients, Alembe and Anyemu Dunia. (credit: Molly Tack-Hooper)

When hundreds of refugees enter Lancaster, Pa. every year from countries all over the world, their first contact is often Sheila Mastropietro.

Mastropietro is the director of the immigration and refugee program at the Lancaster branch of the Church World Service. Her work involves finding housing, food, clothing and shelter for refugees — people who have fled war and adversity in their home countries, and landed in the Keystone State.

It also often involves finding them educational opportunities.

In 2010, Mastropietro started hearing complaints from case workers saying that refugee students — young people from ages 17 to 21 — were either being denied enrollment into the School District of Lancaster (SDOL), or sent to a disciplinary school, Phoenix Academy, run by a private company called Camelot Education. Mastropietro arranged a meeting with SDOL’s superintendent to ask about it.

When the superintendent didn’t deny the complaints outright, Mastropietro suggested things needed to change. Refugee students needed to be enrolled in SDOL’s main high school, the J.P. McCaskey Campus, she said, for many reasons — including that McCaskey offers a full course selection, Advanced Placement courses, an International Baccalaureate program, and extracurricular sports and other programs. Phoenix had none of that. There was another reason, too, Mastropietro said: A mainstream school like McCaskey — one with more than six times the overall enrollment numbers of Phoenix — would better help to socialize refugee students to the society they were now a part of.

The response Mastropietro received appalled her.

“If socialization is what [these students] want,” said the district’s director of pupil services, “they should go to church.”

That exchange was front and center Tuesday during the first day of testimony in Issa v. the School District of Lancaster — a lawsuit centered around how SDOL has treated young refugees attempting to enroll in the district. A class action brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania along with the law firm of Pepper Hamilton LLP and the Education Law Center, the case alleges that SDOL established a pattern of doing exactly what Mastropietro had heard: Either discouraging older immigrant students from enrolling in school, or diverting them to Phoenix Academy.

And Tuesday’s testimony went further still. It described an atmosphere at Phoenix in which students were searched and patted down before school, and in which teachers would fill out correct test answers for students who weren’t able to read or understand English. It described a school where students received no homework and weren’t allowed to bring books home, and where they were forced through an accelerated curriculum regardless of whether they understood the material they were being taught. Interpreters were not provided for students, and English as a second language was more theory than practice.

“[These students] want to be educated so they can create a better life for themselves and for their families,” said Eric Rothschild, an attorney with Pepper Hamilton, presenting to the court Tuesday.

Instead, he continued, they’re speeding through high school at a break-neck pace toward diplomas that are essentially meaningless.

“A diploma without meaningful education is not going to be useful for them,” he said.

***

Sitting on the stand Tuesday, grinning wide, with her head covered in a white hijab, Khadidja Issa explained through an interpreter that she was born in Sudan, and that her family fled home when she was five years old because of “extreme heat and insecurity” in the war-torn northeast African nation. From there, she moved to Chad, where she lived with her family in a refugee camp until she was 17 years old. She’d attended school in Chad before her family left for Lancaster. None of her classes at the refugee camp were taught in English or involved learning English. But she thought the U.S. education system would help her get beyond the language barrier.

She was wrong.

She started the application process to enroll in SDOL in November, she said, and was told that she “was too old for school and that I should get a job,” she said.

“I responded that I didn’t want a job without an education,” she said.

She persisted. With the help of social workers, she was eventually told she would be enrolled in Phoenix Academy.

Despite knowing very little English, she was enrolled into eleventh grade at Phoenix, taking classes taught in English.

There were other problems with Phoenix, too, she said.

“First thing when you arrive at school is the pat down,” she said.

Issa and three other students who were recently enrolled at Phoenix all described an elaborate search procedure in which students had their shoes searched every morning before school. The students were also not allowed to bring bags, notebooks, or anything else to or from school — eliminating the possibility that they might receive or complete homework.

Sharon M. O’Donnell, representing the district, in the case, countered such testimony, arguing that search procedures in public schools are commonplace.

“I had to come into this court today and take off my shoes,” O’Donnell told the court.

Going further, O’Donnell said: “If [the students] don’t like the security, McCaskey has two full time school resource officers and … they have Tasers. And, yes, sometimes they have to use them.”

Issa nonetheless found Phoenix’s search procedures invasive.

“I have been to school before and I’ve never seen a place where they pat you down in order to enter school, and they do it every day,” she said.

The pat downs weren’t the only thing that shocked her about Phoenix.

Issa’s 16-year-old sister wasn’t “too old” for McCaskey, so that’s where she was assigned to attend school. Issa admitted that her sister has a much better grasp of English than she does.

Two young women from Burma, 19 and 17, who testified Tuesday, made the same claim; their younger brother attends McCaskey and speaks better English than they do.

Since they don’t attend McCaskey, none could testify exactly about what makes McCaskey a better school for non-English speakers, but each explained why Phoenix wasn’t getting the job done. Phoenix does not provide interpreters to students, they said, and the one period a day devoted to teaching English as a second language isn’t enough to accomplish anything approaching that goal.

Qasin Hassan, a 17-year-old Somali student, said his family fled home after his father was killed by Al-Shabab militants. They lived in Egypt for five years before immigrating to Lancaster in late 2015. Like Issa, he said class worksheets were not translated into Arabic for him at Phoenix, despite his inability to read or speak English. His English teacher would show him pictures to help him understand, he said, through an interpreter in court, but no other teacher tried this method. And both he and Issa described having teachers fill in answers on tests when they were unable to read or provide answers themselves.

Issa pointed out something potentially worse for an eager student: She said she doesn’t do anything at school; she just sits there.

“In America, if you don’t have an education, you have a very hard life,” she said.

***

Pennsylvania law dictates that students can enroll in free public education toward a high school diploma until they turn 21 years old.

Repeatedly, SDOL’s representative, O’Donnell, stressed that Phoenix Academy provides students with the opportunity to receive a diploma.

Phoenix can also act as a bridge toward going to McCaskey, she said. But only “if the students choose to go.”

“Many don’t make that choice,” she said, “because they’re able to get their education” and then “move onto jobs where they can make money.”

“Some students do very well,” she insisted, and the district’s policy is to consult with students when they arrive to determine the best course of action. “Once they show up at our door, then the idea is to assess them and figure out how best to serve them,” she said. They are not sent to Phoenix or McCaskey based on language proficiency, she said, but based on their ability to graduate on time.

“To educate and graduate” is the school’s premise, she said.

And while students and people like Sheila Mastropietro — the Church World Service refugee coordinator — may quibble with Phoenix’s approach to education, O’Donnell said, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania “has told us that the magnet school, Phoenix Academy, is just fine.”

“If we hear testimony that kids aren’t getting help, it’s because they’re not asking,” O’Donnell said.

“It’s not that they’re being lost or that they’re being pushed aside,” she continued. “They’re being attended to, and being attended to very well.”

To Issa, O’Donnell stressed these ideas. Going further, she said that transferring to McCaskey — a school with a much slower academic schedule — might not allow Issa to receive a diploma and graduate.
Issa responded: “I don’t just want the graduation. I want an actual education.”

***

ACLU-PA, along with lawyers from Pepper Hamilton, and the Education Law Center, are asking that the Honorable Edward G. Smith, U.S. District Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, certify a class for students like Issa and Hassan; declare that the district has violated federal education law; and, more simply, that they provide sufficient language supports to give older immigrant students a fighting chance at understanding a curriculum taught in English. They’re also asking that kids not be funneled into Phoenix based on their language ability and age. “Phoenix is supposed to be a ‘choice’ school,” said ACLU-PA staff attorney Molly Tack-Hooper, “but the district doesn’t give these kids a choice.” The plaintiffs argue that SDOL’s treatment of these older immigrant students constitutes “irreparable harm.”

But for people like Hassan, it’s about something more than that.

Tuesday he described being bullied by Phoenix students who would do things like kick the door of the bathroom stall while he was inside. They would yell things at him — things he didn’t understand — and then walk away, laughing. He felt like he couldn’t tell anyone that he was being messed with. He had no one who he could turn to. First he avoided using the bathroom. Eventually, pushed by his frustrations about learning nothing at Phoenix and being bullied, he simply decided to stop attending school.

In an exchange with Judge Smith toward the end of his testimony, the judge asked Qasin Hassan how he felt when he learned that his family would be moving to the U.S. His interpreter, a woman with white hair, transmitting his testimony to the court, interpreted for him.

“Happiest person in the world,” she said, speaking for Hassan. “America is number one.”

Then Judge Smith asked Hassan whether his experience at Phoenix had made him think less of the country he and his family had waited so long to be a part of. Was he disappointed, the judge asked, when Hassan got to America and realized it wasn’t what he expected?

In the courtroom, Hassan replied in Arabic, but the woman interpreting Hassan’s answers raised her hand to her mouth and turned away. She’d begun to cry and needed a moment to gather herself. A few seconds later she looked toward Judge Smith and translated what Hassan said.

“I didn’t get the education or opportunity I’d expected.”

——-

Matt Stroud joined the ACLU of Pennsylvania in 2016 as a criminal justice researcher and writer. Prior to joining the ACLU, Matt held staff reporting positions with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News, and has written for publications including Esquire, The Intercept, Politico, The Atlantic, and The Nation, as well as newspapers and magazines throughout Pennsylvania.

“One of the Most Transformative Years of My Life”

By Michael Kokozos, 2015 Frankel-Adair Scholarship Winner

Michael Kokozos

Michael Kokozos

I have learned this past year that classroom walls are not magical barriers to the harsh, painful, and at times tragic realities taking place in our society particularly as a facilitator this summer through LEDA (Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America) at Princeton University. The student scholars remind me, however, that paralysis is not an option. We can ignore problems or choose to tackle them. If we attempt to tackle them, we have so much to learn from each other to raise awareness and foster critical reflection preparing the groundwork towards action.

Their unceasing energy and wisdom transport me to the annual ACLU Bill of Rights Dinner — a much-needed jolt in the life of a doctoral student who can easily forget modern-day heroes do exist tirelessly fighting on behalf of all of us for better tomorrows. I recall the Q&A with New York Times Op-Ed columnist, Charles M. Blow, and my awe of his willingness to even take on his political allies for their complicity in persisting inequalities causing undue harm especially to people of color. Truly, we must be willing to see far beyond the fog of fairness and with keen eyes.

These days I also live in the library writing my dissertation, reading and analyzing texts. I examine school textbooks in hopes that the representation of so many missing LGBTQ voices will finally find a heading. I peruse legislative documents in hopes that American policy will focus more on how we can include rather than exclude when it comes to national belonging. I reflect upon my journal entries looking forward to the life I imagined in my head as a boy still yet to come. History, I have learned, takes time to catch up to matters of the heart.

Thus, I see my pursuit of an Education, Culture, & Society degree enhanced by the Frankel-Adair scholarship as symbolic of a lifelong commitment to social justice. One of my favorite quotes is when the scientist and mathematician Archimedes would awe listeners by exclaiming: “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the earth.” Harnessing a seriousness of purpose and collaborating with others to move this world with all our might — this is what it means to me to be a part of something bigger than the self, and this is what it means to me to be a member of the ACLU.

This award has made a lot of things possible for me. For example, I will continue teaching my passions to educators across the country from elementary school students and teachers to college students and professors. I will continue to develop my research and leadership acumen to interrogate curriculum, assessing its effectiveness including and integrating diverse LGBTQ voices and perspectives, and securing the rights and liberties of my community and anyone else hurt by a system that can transcend its fears by committing to love. I will continue to bridge gaps between theory and practice by listening to and supporting the voices tied to a past that launched this movement in the first place.

So, thank you ACLU of Pennsylvania family. Thank you, Peggy Curchack, for your support and kindness. Thank you, Alli Harper, for your passionate dedication to the Young Leaders Outreach Team (YLOT). Thank you, Ben Weimer, for advocating for an ACLU presence at the University of Pennsylvania. And thank you to my co-scholar, D’Angelo Cameron, for your activism — past, present, and future. This year has been one of the most transformative years of my life. Your spirits and that of teaching and learning are imbued within this award and now within me.

Thank you.

Pennsylvania’s Proposed Blue Lives Matter Law is Redundant, Unnecessary

By Matt Stroud, Criminal Justice Researcher/Writer, 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)

Pennsylvania could soon have its own Blue Lives Matter law.

Taking cues from Louisiana — which became the first state in the country to pass legislation deeming law enforcement officers a protected class — Pa. Representative Frank Burns (D-Cambria) introduced legislation July 13 to do the same in the Keystone State.

“I respect the difficult job police and corrections officers perform keeping us safe from criminals and I’m appalled that all too often, officers themselves are targeted for assault, ambush or – as we found out in Dallas – death,” Burns said in a prepared statement prior to releasing text of the proposed bill. “If ever there was a group in need of being a protected class, it’s those who put their lives on the line everyday to keep the rest of us safe from the criminal element.”

Burns’ bill would amend the portion of Pennsylvania’s crimes and offenses law that deals with assault. Under that portion of the law, a criminal penalty can be made more severe if it’s “motivated by hatred toward the actual or perceived race, color, religion or national origin, ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity of another individual or group of individuals.” Burns’ bill would add “employment as a law enforcement officer” to that list of protected groups. Not only would it include officers working the streets of municipalities, cities, and the state police; it would also encompass “a corrections officer, a parole agent, and a member of a park police department in a county of the third class.”

Similar proposals have been advanced in Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Florida.

At least one American Civil Liberties Union chapter has spoken out against the premise behind such proposals. When an alderman put forward Blue Lives Matter legislation in Chicago, the ACLU of Illinois issued a statement calling the measure a “distraction” that attempts “to shift attention from the work of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has challenged police abuse.”

But the ACLU isn’t the only group pointing to the uselessness of such laws.

When Texas senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz teamed up with North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis to introduce the “Back The Blue Act of 2016,” the response from conservative thought leaders was tepid. The federal version of Pennsylvania’s Blue Lives law would enact a 30-year minimum sentence for killing a federal judge, or law enforcement officer. Conservative author and Manhattan Institute fellow Heather MacDonald told Christian Science Monitor that these bills were more about pandering to cops than solving any significant policing issues. She said it’s “easy for legislators to pass legislation and they feel like they’re accomplishing something…” Former cop and current University of South Carolina assistant law professor told CSM, “I’m not really sure what establishing a mandatory minimum of 30 years is going to do, unless you really want to get them into the federal system for some reason.” Conservative blogger and Hot Air contributor Taylor Millard put it more bluntly:

“There is no reason whatsoever to make killing a police officer a federal crime. FBI stats show they’ve gone down on a pretty steady rate, with spikes here and there. It’s an unpopular sentiment to have following the murder of five Dallas police officers (and last night’s shootout in Baltimore), but what Cornyn, Cruz, and Tillis are trying to do is score brownie points with the law enforcement community.”

Pennsylvania’s law is similarly unneeded, explains ACLU-PA’s Deputy Legal Director, Mary Catherine Roper. “The current criminal code actually provides stronger penalties than the ‘hate crimes’ designation,” she said. “Hate crimes is a one level enhancement, the crimes code provides in some places for two levels difference between, say, simple assault on [a citizen] and simple assault on a cop.”

“There are more important ways to support police,” she continued. “Like pay them a professional salary.”

It’s a tough time to be a cop, that’s certain. With deranged killers taking out their homicidal anger on police in Baton Rouge and Dallas — killing eight officers in total — there’s no doubt that good cops need our support. But proposing redundant laws isn’t the way to do that.

Read Rep. Burns’ Pennsylvania bill here. Track its progress here.

Matt Stroud joined the ACLU of Pennsylvania in 2016 as a criminal justice researcher and writer. Prior to joining the ACLU, Matt held staff reporting positions with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News, and has written for publications including Esquire, The Intercept, Politico, The Atlantic, and The Nation, as well as newspapers and magazines throughout Pennsylvania.

S. 3100 Is BAD For Pennsylvania

On Tuesday, July 5, the ACLU of Pennsylvania sent letters to Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey asking them to oppose proposed anti-immigrant legislation.

READ THE LETTERS

S. 3100 would punish 32 Pennsylvania counties for upholding constitutional safeguards against unlawful detention. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s own senator, Patrick Toomey, is the sponsor of the bill.

Senator Toomey has derided Philadelphia for policies that keep local law enforcement officials out of the deportation business. But deportation is a job that should be left to the federal government. When local police and sheriffs take on immigration enforcement duties, trust and cooperation with immigrants is eroded, undermining public safety.

While Philadelphia may make for a convenient target of criticism, at least 32 Pennsylvania counties — like hundreds of other counties across the U.S. — rightly require Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to get a warrant like any other law enforcement agency if they want to detain individuals, for deportation purposes. S. 3100 would require local police to share information about immigrants in their jails, even if ICE does not have a warrant for their arrest.

As punishment for noncompliance, S. 3100 would take over $62 million in federal funding away from these Pennsylvania counties, funds that pay for low-income housing, disaster recovery, public works and economic development. This is bad for Pennsylvania.

Take action on behalf of Pennsylvania and let your senators know that this bill is no good.