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“I’m a Prisoner Here”: Biden Administration Policies Lock Up Asylum Seekers

April 21, 2022

Today, the United States operates the world's largest immigration detention system—a system the Biden administration uses to jail people seeking refugee protection. While this administration is not currently detaining families and has requested a reduction in detention funding, its policy has led the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to target adult asylum seekers as priorities for detention. DHS has perpetuated a punitive immigration detention system—converting former family detention centers to jail adults and expanding other existing facilities. As the administration restores compliance with U.S. refugee law at the southern U.S. border and ends Trump policy that illegally prevented people from seeking asylum, it should not substitute one rights-violating policy for another. Instead, it should set an example of global leadership by ending mass detention of asylum seekers and providing a true humanitarian welcome to people seeking refugee protection at the border.This report is based on information about 270 asylum seekers and immigrants held in detention, including direct interviews with 76, information received from dozens of attorneys and detention center visitation programs, DHS data, government records received through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and visits to three ICE detention centers where researchers spoke with detained individuals and ICE officials. Requests to visit five additional facilities were denied by ICE. Human Rights First interviewed or received information from asylum seekers, attorneys, and other monitors related to asylum seekers and immigrants held at 49 facilities in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. The report is also informed by Human Rights First's decades of experience providing pro bono representation to asylum seekers, including those held in immigration detention, and its prior research and reporting on U.S. detention and parole of asylum seekers, including reports issued in August 2015, July 2016, February 2018, June 2018, and January 2019. A full description of Human Rights First's research methodology is included at the end of this report.

Making the Case: Philanthropy’s Role in the Movement to Reimagine Criminal Justice

March 31, 2022

Bridgespan's experience and relationships working with institutional foundations and philanthropists created an opportunity to dive into the common challenges we've heard funders navigate: What role could philanthropy play in movement building in criminal justice reform? How might mindset and practice need to shift to enable effective giving to movement?The purpose of this report is to provide guidance for some of those common challenges by offering the perspectives and wisdom of those doing the work. Our research included interviews with more than 40 movement leaders, funders, and others across the ecosystem seeking transformative change of our criminal legal system, as well as a review of literature to understand how social movements can achieve equitable change.Bridgespan recognizes that this research is indebted to the work of many others who have long been thinking about these issues deeply. We hope to contribute to that ongoing conversation and the fight for equity and justice. 

Collusion in California’s Central Valley: The Case for Ending Sheriff Entanglement with ICE

February 17, 2022

Over the past decade, the California Legislature enacted a trio of critical laws intended to protect people from collusion between state and local law enforcement agencies and agencies engaged in immigration enforcement. Certain sheriffs and local law enforcement agencies, however, have circumvented these laws and undermined the protections envisioned for California immigrants — at times in consultation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As a result of these unlawful practices, sheriffs facilitate the reincarceration of noncitizen community members, whom ICE then forces to sit in prison-like detention awaiting trial, often without counsel. Collaboration between sheriffs and ICE are particularly destructive to the communities of the Central Valley: an expansive rural region with a large immigrant population, high poverty levels, and a dearth of legal services providers.This report exposes the different tactics used by Central Valley sheriffs to divert their resources to immigration enforcement and funnel noncitizen community members into the hands of immigration enforcement authorities. This report also reveals new details about the mechanisms developed by Central Valley sheriffs and law enforcement agencies in close partnership with ICE to evade pro-immigrant state laws. Notably, the practice of funneling people in Central Valley communities to ICE custody has continued even during the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatens particularly dangerous results in the congregate settings of ICE detention centers, which have been plagued by outbreaks.A two-year bill that was introduced in 2021 (AB 937, VISION Act), if enacted, would strengthen prohibitions on entanglement between state and local law enforcement agencies and ICE. This report demonstrates the need for such a bill: to sever sheriff entanglement with immigration enforcement and better protect all California residents.

Cruel by Design: Voices of Resistance from Immigration Detention

February 9, 2022

This report shows how the harms associated with ICE detention practices are embedded in the structures of the immigration control regime rather than a manifestation of a broken system. In doing so, it offers a summary of U.S. detention laws to illustrate how the system is designed to make it as easy as possible for the federal government to exclude and deport people. It also shows how the detention system deploys multiple tactics to undermine the ability of individuals to fight deportation. In addition, the report highlights the stories of people who've been held in ICE detention, and their resistance and resilience in the face of a draconian system.Piecemeal reforms alone will not be sufficient for remedying the cruelty of this system. What is ultimately required is far-reaching transformation, one aimed at ending detention as a tool of the U.S. regime of exclusion.

Public’s Views of Supreme Court Turned More Negative Before News of Breyer’s Retirement

February 2, 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court, which typically attracts only modest attention from the American public, is about to occupy the national spotlight with the possibility of a history-making change among the court's justices and a series of highly anticipated rulings on matters ranging from abortion to gun policy.The court enters this pivotal period with its public image as negative as it has been in many years, as Democrats – especially liberal Democrats – increasingly express unfavorable opinions of the court.In a national survey by Pew Research Center, 54% of U.S. adults say they have a favorable opinion of the Supreme Court while 44% have an unfavorable view. The survey was conducted before Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement from the court and President Joe Biden reiterated his pledge to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court to replace Breyer.Over the past three years, the share of adults with a favorable view of the court has declined 15 percentage points, according to the new survey, conducted Jan. 10-17 among 5,128 adults on the Center's American Trends Panel. Looking back further, current views of the court are among the least positive in surveys dating back nearly four decades.

The Politics of Judicial Elections, 2019-20

January 25, 2022

In 2019–20, state Supreme Court elections attracted more money — including more spending by special interests — than any judicial election cycle in history, posing a serious threat to the appearance and reality of justice across the country.Thirty-eight states use elections to choose the justices who sit on their highest courts, which typically have the final word in interpreting state law. Over the past two decades, the Brennan Center has tracked and documented more than $500 million in spending in these races.This unparalleled spending speaks to the power and influence of state supreme courts, which often fly below the public's radar. The current political moment only heightens the stakes. In 2020 alone, state supreme courts ruled on everything from ballot access and challenges to election results to governors' emergency orders concerning the Covid-19 pandemic. Looking ahead, state courts are playing a crucial role in the ongoing redistricting cycle, including resolving disputes about racial discrimination and partisan gerrymandering and even drawing electoral maps in some states.States have a wide range of tools to mitigate the harms documented in this report, including eliminating Supreme Court elections or limiting justices to a lengthy single term in office, providing judicial candidates with public financing, strengthening disclosure rules, and adopting recusal and ethics reforms. The 2019–20 cycle underscores that the challenges posed by modern supreme court elections are not going away — and that the need for action is urgent.

Voter Policies Are Nonexistent in Ohio Jails

December 14, 2021

In 2020, All Voting is Local Ohio teamed up with statewide advocates to assess how difficult it is for eligible voters in jail to cast a ballot. We wanted to know: Did county jails and boards of elections have policies and procedures to facilitate the voting and registration of eligible voters in jails, and did they cooperate with volunteers who sought to provide those services? We used data from public records requests to the boards of elections (BOEs) and jails in Ohio's seven major metropolitan counties. Boards and county jails responded with nothing more than references to the Ohio Revised Code — if they responded at all. Written policies and procedures to facilitate elections are missing throughout the state's largest counties.Each year, at least 150,000 people are booked into local jails in Ohio. If the state is not collecting basic information and the counties do not have universal policies and procedures to facilitate in-jail voting, people who are confined are likely experiencing de facto disenfranchisement.

Ensuring that Eligible Voters in Florida Jails Have Access to the Ballot

December 14, 2021

All Voting is Local Florida and the ACLU of Florida teamed up to assess how difficult it is for eligible voters in Florida jails to cast a ballot. We wanted to know: Did county jails have policies and procedures to facilitate the voting and registration of eligible voters in jails, and did they cooperate with volunteers who sought to provide those services?We found that most counties have no written policies to facilitate elections in jail. Even for those that do have policies, important steps or details are missing.The right to vote does not end at the door of a holding cell. State laws require eligible voters in jail to be able to cast a ballot. People who are in jail are often awaiting trial, conviction, or are being held for misdemeanor crimes. In Florida, as in most states, these individuals are eligible to register and vote, and no eligible voter should be denied their right. Yet there is a sharp difference between being simply eligible to vote or register and being able to make one's voice heard.

60 Years of Fighting for Justice: Annual Report 2021

December 13, 2021

Vera started in 1961 with Herb Sturz sitting alone in the alcove adjoining Louis Schweitzer's secretary's office. Today it has grown to 290 employees with offices in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Washington, DC.As we mourn our founder, and his successor Michael E. Smith (who died in May), we lean on the lessons they left us and work to build on their legacies.Herb's formula—using compelling data and tireless advocacy to transform unjust systems—continues to succeed. In our 60th year, we are applying that formula at the highest levels of power, as we focus intentionally on eradicating racial injustice. The criminal legal and immigration systems are fundamentally brutal, especially to people of color. Vera exists to transform these systems so that communities can thrive.On the pages that follow, read how Vera seeks to transform the role of the prosecutor to one that pursues justice, not jails; to make sure that every immigrant facing deportation has a government-funded lawyer and a fighting chance to stay with their family and in our communities; and ensure that every incarcerated student has the chance to receive a quality college education. Vera once incubated social justice organizations across New York City. Now we strive for national policy change across state capitals and in Washington, DC, alongside community partners and government leaders.Our founding charter stated that we exist "to seek and further the equal protection of the laws." We are now carrying this mission—and the legacy of our founders—forward at a larger scale, with 60 years of experience and our unwavering commitment to justice for all.

Texas Cite & Release Advocacy Toolkit

December 9, 2021

Black people and other communities of color, including immigrants, have faced decades of overpolicing, criminalization, and incarceration in Texas, often for alleged conduct that does not mandate an arrest or even carry jail time in the state. One way to effectively reduce arrests is to pass a local cite and release policy. This advocacy toolkit gives local organizers and advocates in Texas the tools they need to lead a successful cite and release campaign. We have included many helpful resources, samples, and insights for every step in a cite & release campaign – from initial education, research, and data collection through policy implementation.

Judicial Nominations Update December 2021

December 8, 2021

Every day our federal courts decide cases critical to our rights— from voting rights to environmental justice to immigrants' rights. Under the previous administration, judicial vacancies were filled at a rapid pace with conservative judges who were largely young, white men and oftentimes underqualified.The Biden-Harris administration and the Senate now have an opportunity to diversify the courts by nominating and confirming qualified diverse, progressive judges. With the new administration well into its first year in office and the Senate finished with the first half of its term, this report assesses the progress or lack thereof that has been made in these critical areas.

Forgotten by Funders

December 1, 2021

This report highlights the underfunding of work with and for imprisoned and formerly imprisoned women and girls,  alongside a worrying increase in the global female prison population. The report draws from the survey responses of 34 organisations, most of which are based in the Global South and have women with lived experience of the justice system involved with or leading their work. Calling to donors that fund human rights, women's rights and/or access to justice, the report concludes that this heavily gendered area of human rights tends to fall through the cracks of donor strategies, including recent Gender Equality Forum pledges.