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The American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel, and K&L Gates LLP today filed a nationwide class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of children who are challenging the federal government's failure to provide them with legal representation in deportation hearings.
Each year, the government initiates immigration court proceedings against thousands of children. Some of these youth grew up in the United States and have lived in the country for years, and many have fled violence and persecution in their home countries. The Obama administration even recently called an influx of children coming across the Southern border a "humanitarian situation." And yet, thousands of children required to appear in immigration court each year do so without an attorney. This case seeks to remedy this unacceptable practice.
"If we believe in due process for children in our country, then we cannot abandon them when they face deportation in our immigration courts," said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. "The government pays for a trained prosecutor to advocate for the deportation of every child. It is patently unfair to force children to defend themselves alone."
The plaintiffs in this case include:
All are scheduled to appear at deportation hearings without any legal representation and face a very real risk of being sent back into the perilous circumstances they left.
While the Obama administration recently announced a limited program to provide legal assistance to some youth facing deportation hearings, this proposal does not come close to meeting the urgent need for legal representation for all children whom the government wants to deport. And there is no guarantee that additional funding proposed by the administration yesterday will materialize or meet the overwhelming need. In the meantime, children continue to appear alone in court every day.
"While our law firm, and others around the country, provide free legal services to children facing the injustice of appearing alone in court, we can help only a small fraction of the children in need," said Theo Angelis, a partner at K&L Gates LLP.
Kristen Jackson, senior staff attorney with Public Counsel, a not-for-profit law firm that works with immigrant children, added, "Each day, we are contacted by children in desperate need of lawyers to advocate for them in their deportation proceedings. Pro bono efforts have been valiant, but they will never fully meet the increasing and complex needs these children present. The time has come for our government to recognize our Constitution's promise of fairness and its duty to give these children a real voice in court."
The complaint charges the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Office for Immigration Review, and Office of Refugee Resettlement with violating the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act's provisions requiring a "full and fair hearing" before an immigration judge. It seeks to require the government to provide children with legal representation in their deportation hearings.
"Deportation carries serious consequences for children, whether it is return to a country they fled because of violence and persecution or being separated from their homes and families. Yet children are forced into immigration court without representation - a basic protection most would assume is required whenever someone's liberty is at stake. Requiring children to fight against deportation without a lawyer is incompatible with American values of due process and justice for all," said Beth Werlin, deputy legal director for the American Immigration Council.
The case, J.E.F.M. v. Holder, was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Wash.
"It is simply unacceptable that children are forced to stand alone before an immigration judge, pitted against trained attorneys from the federal government," said Matt Adams, legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. "Any notion of justice or fair play requires that these children be provided legal representation."
The complaint is available at:
The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.(212) 549-2666
"Today's ruling is a testament to the incredible power and resiliency of immigrant workers and their communities," said one advocate.
Immigrant rights groups celebrated a historic victory late Monday as a federal judge handed down what is believed to be the first-ever class action settlement over a workplace immigration raid in the United States, awarding $1.17 million to nearly 100 people who were targeted by the Trump administration in 2018.
Most of the plaintiffs will receive more than $5,700 each, while a total of $475,000 will be split between six people who the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee found were eligible to be compensated for "negligent or wrongful acts by agents of the federal government," The New York Timesreported Monday.
The plaintiffs, represented by legal advocacy groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), were rounded up by the Department of Homeland Security in April 2018 after an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) found that their employer at a meat processing plant in Bean Station, Tennessee was evading taxes by paying them in cash.
"They used the pretext of a tax investigation of the plant's owner to plan and carry out a full-blown operation targeting the Latino workers," Michelle Lapointe, deputy legal director for the NILC, told the Times on Monday.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents descended on the plant and violently arrested dozens of Latino workers, separating them from their white coworkers and physically assaulting some of them. The warrant the agents had to enter the premises did not authorize them to arrest anyone. Only one Latino employee avoided the raid—by hiding in a meat freezer.
A majority of the workers were placed in deportation court proceedings and at least 20 were deported shortly after the raid.
More than 150 children were directly affected by the raid, as their parents were detained. The nearby city of Morristown rallied around the immigrant community, providing legal services, donations, help with locating detained people, and child care.
The NILC called the legal victory handed down on Monday "a testament to the power of community organizing to protect workers' rights."
\u201c"I am content to see that justice prevailed over injustice. I am thankful to the legal team and the class members, who stuck together throughout this time. We will always remember that we are one." - Martha Pulido, plaintiff & resident of Morristown, TN\u201d— National Immigration Law Center (@National Immigration Law Center) 1677537498
"Today's ruling is a testament to the incredible power and resiliency of immigrant workers and their communities," said Lisa Sherman Luna, executive director at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. "Violent enforcement tactics like workplace raids are designed to keep immigrant families living in fear, but these plaintiffs and class members refused to stand by when they knew their rights had been violated. This settlement sends a clear message: No matter who we are or where we are from, we all deserve the freedom to work and live safely in our communities."
Meredith Stewart, senior supervising attorney at the SPLC's Immigrant Justice Project, called the ruling "unprecedented" and said the settlement "demonstrates that we, as a nation, will not tolerate racial profiling."
"We can't trust giant corporations like Norfolk Southern to keep communities safe out of the goodness of their hearts," said Rep. Chris Deluzio. "They're in it for profits, plain and simple."
Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna of California and Chris Deluzio of Pennsylvania introduced legislation Tuesday that would require the U.S. Transportation Department to impose more strict regulations on trains carrying hazardous materials, an effort to prevent disasters like the toxic derailment in East Palestine, Ohio from happening in the future.
"The people in East Palestine and western Pennsylvania are the working-class folks who feel invisible and abandoned by our nation," Khanna said in a statement. "This is a moment where we need political leaders from all parties and from across the country to speak out loudly for better safety regulations and to acknowledge what so many Americans are going through."
If passed, the Decreasing Emergency Railroad Accident Instances Locally (DERAIL) Act would direct the head of the Department of Transportation to "modify the definition of 'high-hazard flammable train' to mean a single train transporting one or more loaded tank cars of a Class 3 flammable liquid or a Class 2 flammable gas and other materials the secretary determines necessary for safety."
Thanks in part to aggressive industry lobbying, the Transportation Department currently defines a high-hazard flammable train as one carrying hazardous materials in at least 20 consecutive cars or 35 total, limiting the number of trains subject to more stringent safety rules.
Deluzio, who represents constituents located just miles from the East Palestine derailment, said in a statement that many people are "worried about their health and livelihoods and whether their air, water, and soil will be safe" after the East Palestine wreck.
"Following this derailment, many of them are worried about their health and livelihoods and whether their air, water, and soil will be safe after this disaster," Deluzio added. "They want answers, accountability, and assurance that something like this will never happen again. For too long, railroads have prioritized profit ahead of public safety and their workers, and it is time to regulate the railroads. This legislation is an important step forward to finally strengthen our rail regulations and improve rail safety in communities like Western Pennsylvania and across America."
\u201cWe can\u2019t trust giant corporations like Norfolk Southern to keep communities safe out of the goodness of their hearts. They\u2019re in it for profits, plain and simple.\n\nToday I\u2019m introducing the DERAIL Act with @RepRoKhanna to better regulate the railroads and put public safety first.\u201d— Congressman Chris Deluzio (@Congressman Chris Deluzio) 1677586588
As The Lever has reported, the Norfolk Southern train that derailed in eastern Ohio and spilled toxic chemicals—including the flammable carcinogen vinyl chloride—was not being regulated as a "high-hazard flammable train" (HHFT) due to a narrow definition of the category adopted by the Obama administration.
"The Obama administration in 2014 proposed improving safety regulations for trains carrying petroleum and other hazardous materials," The Lever noted earlier this month. "However, after industry pressure, the final measure ended up narrowly focused on the transport of crude oil and exempting trains carrying many other combustible materials."
"Then came 2017," The Lever continued. "After rail industry donors delivered more than $6 million to GOP campaigns, the Trump administration—backed by rail lobbyists and Senate Republicans—rescinded part of that rule aimed at making better braking systems widespread on the nation's rails."
In addition to requiring tougher regulation of trains carrying hazardous substances, Khanna and Deluzio's bill would require rail carriers involved in any potentially toxic derailment to provide the National Response Center, state and local officials, and tribal governments with a list of dangerous materials present on the train no later than 24 hours after the crash.
The House Democrats' legislation comes as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is facing growing pressure to strengthen lax regulations that are allowing railroad giants like Norfolk Southern to cut corners in pursuit of greater profits—often with dangerous consequences.
More than 1,000 trains derail in the United States each year, according to one estimate. A recent USA Todayanalysis found that hazardous material violations by rail companies "appear to be climbing," with federal inspectors flagging 36% more infractions over the last five years than they did in the preceding half-decade.
The Norfolk Southern train that crashed in eastern Ohio had a reputation among workers as a serious safety hazard. The train, formally known as 32N but nicknamed "32 Nasty," included around 20 cars carrying hazardous chemicals.
Greg Hynes, the national legislative director of SMART Transportation Division—the union that represents the workers who staffed the derailed Norfolk Southern train—said Tuesday that Khanna and Deluzio's proposal represents "positive action to improve rail safety for Pennsylvania and America."
PennEnvironment executive director David Masur agreed, saying the measure would "take commonsense and important steps to improve reporting and the public's right to know about volatile and hazardous materials rumbling through U.S. communities every day."
"As the derailment and explosion in East Palestine, Ohio showed us," Masur said, "federal laws excluding freight companies from reporting the dangerous and explosive materials that they are carrying have loopholes large enough to drive a train through."
The seven largest for-profit insurance companies in the U.S. have seen their combined revenues from taxpayer-backed programs grow 500% over the past decade.
A new analysis released Monday shows that insurance giants are benefiting hugely from the accelerating privatization of Medicare and Medicaid, which for-profit companies have infiltrated via government programs such as Medicare Advantage.
According to the report from Wendell Potter, a former insurance executive who now advocates for systemic healthcare reform, government programs are now the source of roughly 90% of the health plan revenues of Humana, Centene, and Molina.
Over the past decade, Potter found, the seven top for-profit insurance companies in the U.S.—the three mentioned above plus UnitedHealth, Cigna, CVS/Aetna, and Elevance—have seen their combined revenues from taxpayer-backed programs soar by 500%, reaching $577 billion in 2022 compared to $116.3 billion in 2012.
"The big insurers now manage most states' Medicaid programs—and make billions of dollars for shareholders doing so—but most of the insurers have found that selling their privately operated Medicare replacement plans is even more financially rewarding for their shareholders," Potter wrote. "In addition to their focus on Medicare and Medicaid, the companies also profit from the generous subsidies the government pays insurers to reduce the premiums they charge individuals and families who do not qualify for either Medicare or Medicaid or who work for an employer that does not offer subsidized coverage."
Potter noted that the top insurance giants, a group he dubbed the Big Seven, now control more than 70% of the Medicare Advantage market, which has grown rapidly in recent years. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 28 million people were enrolled in a privately run Medicare Advantage plan last year—nearly half of the Medicare-eligible population.
An ardent critic of Medicare Advantage, Potter said in an interview with The American Prospect on Monday that the program "is a big contributor to the excessive spending" in Medicare.
"It needs to be ended," Potter, executive director of the Center for Health and Democracy, said of Medicare Advantage, whose major players frequently overbill the federal government and deny patients necessary care. The program is run by private insurers with government money.
"The premiums and taxes paid by Americans enabled the Big Seven to make those profits."
In his analysis, Potter observed that Medicare Advantage enrollment among the Big Seven increased 252% between 2012 and 2022.
Having deeply entrenched themselves in the Medicare program via Medicare Advantage, insurance giants are now looking to gain a foothold in traditional Medicare through a Biden administration pilot program known as ACO REACH, which has drawn mounting criticism from physicians and progressive lawmakers.
"We must fight the privatization of Medicare with every tool we have," Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement last month.
When counting both their commercial businesses and participation in government programs, the Big Seven brought in $1.25 trillion in revenue last year and their profits rose to $69.3 billion, according to Potter, who emphasized that a growing share of insurance giants' revenues now comes from "the relatively new and little-known middleman between patients and pharmaceutical drug manufacturers" known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).
"Cigna now gets far more revenue from its PBM than from its health plans," Potter noted. "CVS gets more revenue from its PBM than from either Aetna's health plans or its nearly 10,000 retail stores."
\u201cThe premiums & taxes paid by Americans enabled the Big 7 to make those profits last year on revenues that reached a stunning $1.25 trillion (+300% since '12)\n\nThe main sources of all that money:\n\n1. Pharmacy benefit management (PBM)\n\n2. Gov't programs like Medicare Advantage (MA)\u201d— Wendell Potter (@Wendell Potter) 1677524849
Potter lamented that "policymakers, regulators, employers, and the media have so far shown scant interest" in closely examining the taxpayer-reliant business practices of large insurance companies, which wield substantial lobbying power that they deploy against any effort to transform the United States' fragmented healthcare system.
"They've essentially been bailed out by taxpayers," Potter said of for-profit insurance giants. "And members of Congress, and various administrations, have been just standing on the sidelines, not paying attention to what's been going on."
Meanwhile, tens of millions of people in the United States are either uninsured or inadequately insured, and more than 100 million are saddled with healthcare-related debt.
A recent study by The Commonwealth Fund found that the United States spent close to twice as much as the average OECD nation on healthcare while achieving worse outcomes in critical areas such as life expectancy at birth and death rates for treatable conditions.