The Latino Action Network is a grassroots organization composed of individuals and organizations that are committed to engaging in collective action at the local, state and national levels in order to advance the equitable inclusion of the diverse Latino communities in all aspects of United States society.

Monday, December 15, 2014

N.J. correctional facilities should stop honoring ICE detainers: Opinion

The following Op-Ed was written on behalf of the Latino Action Network by LAN Steering Committee member John P. Leschak, Esq. and appeared in today's Star-Ledger. 

N.J. correctional facilities should stop honoring ICE detainers: Opinion

December 15, 2014
By John P. Leschak

For many years, we have had two systems of justice in New Jersey and in other parts of the nation: One for immigrants and another for everybody else.

At the heart of this unjust system are the detainers placed on suspected undocumented immigrants by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency of the Department of Homeland Security. A detainer is a legal request by ICE to hold an individual, most often picked up for minor offenses, even after they have posted bail. These detainers can lead to the incarceration of individuals for weeks and months without a proper hearing on the charges against them.

As President Obama forcefully stated in his recent national address, we need to move away from a deportation policy that breaks up families. The current detainer policy is a vestige of a flawed system.

These detainers are immoral, unjust and most likely illegal, according to a federal appeals court, that ruled earlier this year that they violate the U.S. Constitution. The court found that the federal government cannot force states and municipalities to honor these detainer requests and unjustly jail immigrants.

To be clear, before a court releases anyone charged with a criminal offense, an assessment of flight risk must be made and an appropriate bail set. It is important to note that a person charged with a crime – a minor or major offense – is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. This same legal protection extends to everyone. In addition, immigration matters fall under a separate area of the law and a determination of status in this country follows a very different legal process.

Given these facts, the Latino Action Network calls on all New Jersey correctional institutions to stop honoring ICE detainers. We echo the call of the American Civil Liberties Union that has already begun to champion this effort. Currently five New Jersey counties have decided to stop honoring ICE detainers. (Middlesex, Ocean, Union, Burlington, and Camden).

If the injustice of illegal detention were not enough, the economics of improperly detaining immigrants should give local and county governments pause to question their current policies. State, county and local correctional institutions are not reimbursed for detaining these individuals and, therefore, the cost falls solely on local taxpayers.

Furthermore, holding immigrants for federal immigration authorities exposes local governments to lawsuits. Our Constitution protects any person from being deprived of liberty without probable cause, and without due process of law. Because ICE detainer requests are not supported by a judicial warrant, jails act illegally when they detain people based on them.

This legal liability is real. A Pennsylvania county recently paid $95,000 in damages for illegally detaining Ernesto Galarza, a U.S. citizen, for three days. All of this money had to come from the county coffers since the federal government told them they did not cover it. Also, in Oregon, a county paid $30,000 to Maria Miranda-Olivares, who was held in detention 19 hours after her criminal case concluded.

In the aftermath of these lawsuits, more than 250 jurisdictions, across the nation, have stopped complying with ICE detainer requests. It is time that all of our county jails and state prisons follow suit and decline to detain immigrants in the absence of a warrant issued by a U.S. magistrate.

Rejecting immigration detainers is morally right and has the added benefit of making good economic sense.

John P. Leschak, Esq., is a member of the Latino Action Network Steering Committee.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Latino Action Network and Coalition Partners Reach Agreement with Christie Administration to Set Aside Additional Sandy Relief Funds for Working Poor Families

Latino Action Network and Coalition Partners Reach Agreement with Christie Administration to Set Aside Additional Sandy Relief Funds for Working Poor Families

For Immediate Release: May 30, 2014
Frank Argote-Freyre, President – 908-670-0552
Christian Estevez, Executive Vice President – 973-418-7012

The Latino Action Network announced today that it has settled a fair housing complaint that it jointly filed with the NJ NAACP and Fair Share Housing Center challenging the State of New Jersey’s distribution of federal disaster recovery funds. The agreement reached with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the State of New Jersey requires significant changes to the use of federal funds for Hurricane Sandy recovery. The agreement is available on the Latino Action Network’s website here : LAN Hurricane Sandy Agreement

“This settlement will help Spanish-speaking New Jerseyans and others who are still out of their homes get information that wasn’t provided to them before, said Frank Argote-Freyre, President of the Latino Action Network.  “Spanish-speaking staff will be available at every recovery center and homeowners and renters will be given the chance to live in or closer to their homes that were damaged. We have one more chance to get this right, and I am hopeful that this agreement will help the state do a better job.” 

The agreement requires changes to the recovery effort which address the needs of Latinos, African-American and working poor families impacted by Sandy that have not been addressed to date. In response to erroneous information on the State’s website that had incorrect deadlines, the State is required to make its Sandy website fully bilingual, and provide equal access for people whose primary language is not English from the first day of applications for new programs. In response to findings that Latinos and African-Americans were rejected from the State’s main homeowner rebuilding program, the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation [RREM] program, significantly more often than white non-Latino applicants, the State will reexamine all applications to make sure that applicants were not unfairly rejected. In response to a lower share of resources to renters displaced by Sandy, who are disproportionately Latino and African-American, the State will dedicate at least $240 million in additional immediate help and longer-term rebuilding funds to renters impacted by Sandy.

“Working poor families impacted by Sandy should have the same rights as everyone else to rebuild their homes and lives,” said Christian Estevez, Executive Vice-President of the Latino Action Network. “This agreement will help make the Sandy recovery more fair and inclusive.”

Key terms of the agreement include:

  • Provides a minimum of $215 million in addition to $379 million previously allocated to build replacement homes for people impacted by Sandy, and for the first time sets firm targets for prioritizing the most impacted communities in New Jersey, especially the three most impacted counties, Ocean, Monmouth, and Atlantic, to ensure that people are not forced to leave their communities permanently as a result of the storm;
  • Establishes a $15 million pool for immediate help for renters who are still displaced from Sandy, which can be used for up to two years while replacement homes are being built;
  • Requires a re-review of the applications of everyone rejected from the RREM program, responding to information that nearly 80 percent of rejected applicants whose applications were reviewed were incorrectly rejected, with rejection rates 2.5x higher for African-Americans and 1.5x higher for Latinos;
  •  Requires the State to provide equal access to non-English speakers for all programs funded with HUD’s disaster recovery funds and to build a bilingual website for all programs;
  • Provides that as new programs open, there must be equal access for applicants whose primary language is not English from day one;
  • Requires compliance with Section 3 requirements, which provide a preference for local contractors to do federally funded work and access the job opportunities over out of state contractors;
  • Provides an additional $10 million in addition to $50 million previously allocated to help people with special needs impacted by Sandy;
  • Provides enhanced outreach to low- and moderate-income communities that have been underserved by the recovery to date, including enhanced partnerships with community groups and housing counseling to help people who are facing financial distress in recovering from Sandy, and integrates outreach to Spanish and Portuguese speaking communities into this outreach process;
  • Provides a minimum of $10 million to help people in manufactured homes recover from Sandy and rebuild or replace their homes, including the heavily Latino portions of Moonachie impacted by Sandy;
  • Allows applicants to get funds without a substantial damage letter previously required by the state, which has been a particular problem for Latinos in the Ironbound section of Newark and elsewhere, and allows both renters and owners to show concrete proof of damage through other means such as home inspections if FEMA calculated damage incorrectly;  
  • Requires the State to comply with the Open Public Records Requests related to Sandy in a timely fashion and to provide more public information to make sure Sandy funds are being distributed fairly.
The Latino Action Network and other complainants were represented by Kevin D. Walsh and Adam M. Gordon of Fair Share Housing Center based in Cherry Hill, NJ and Michael Allen of the civil rights firm Relman, Dane & Colfax, PLLC, based in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Latino Action Network Honored to Receive "Latino Higher Education Advocate of the Year" Award from The Latino Institute, Inc.

Latino Higher Education Advocate of the Year Award Presented to the Latino Action Network by the Latino Institute, Inc. on April 9, 2014 in Trenton, New Jersey.
--Trenton, NJ
 April 9, 2014

Members of the Latino Action Network were honored to join The Latino Institute at their opening Luncheon at the Latinos and the Future of Higher Education conference that was held on April 9, 2014 at the Lafayette Yard Hotel (formerly the Marriott), in Trenton, New Jersey.  The keynote speaker at the luncheon was Dr. Alberto Acereda from Educational Testing Service (ETS). He spoke on the issue college affordability and retention.

Prior to the keynote speaker, The Institute recognized the Latino Action Network (LAN) and the New Jersey DREAMERS with Awards as the "Latino Higher Education Advocates of the Year".

The Latino Institute President,  Bill Colon, cited LAN’s contribution to the effort to pass the New Jersey DREAM Act, which makes In-State Tuition rates available to undocumented college students in New Jersey, as the key factor in selecting the Latino Action Network to receive their “Latino Higher Education Advocates of the Year” award.  Frank Argote-Freyre, President of the Latino Action Network, humbly accepted the award on behalf of the organization and all of the LAN members that contributed to the overall effort that led to the passage of the New Jersey DREAM Act.

"The members of the Latino Action Network are honored to have received this award from The Latino Institute.", said Argote-Freyre after the event.  "We are also honored to have been able to work with so many organizations, including The Latino Institute and the New Jersey DREAM Act Coalition, to pass such important legislation that will make the dream of obtaining a college education a reality for so many talented and dedicated students in our community."