Jul 31


District passes emergency legislation to protect workers from COVID-19

Since May 29, 2020, when some District businesses began to reopen, many jobless workers contacted Legal Aid for advice. These workers’ concerns were two-fold: they feared being required to return to jobs that might not yet be safe, which could risk their health and the health of their household members, and yet they also feared being “reported” by their employers to the unemployment office for refusing work, which could jeopardize the unemployment benefits they needed to survive the pandemic. Black workers, immigrants, and workers with limited English proficiency reported feeling especially vulnerable. Indeed, a recent nationwide survey demonstrated that employers disproportionately retaliated against Black workers for raising safety concerns with their employers. Read more →

Jul 31


Public charge rule blocked during public health emergency

On Wednesday, July 29, 2020, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction and temporary stay that enjoins the federal government from implementing or enforcing the public charge rule. The Trump Administration first proposed the public charge rule in September 2018. The rule would make it more difficult for immigrants to obtain legal permanent resident status if they had received or applied for federally-funded public benefits. Members of the immigrant and immigrant-allied communities – including Legal Aid – vehemently opposed the proposed rule. However, despite ongoing litigation, the public charge rule went into effect on February 24, 2020. Read more →

Jul 27


Sealing Criminal Records Is Harder Than Ever

At long last, our society has begun to reckon with the devastation that over-policing has wrought, particularly on communities of color. Many District residents have known for years that one of the costs of a police encounter can be a life-changing criminal record. Once burdened with a criminal record, individuals encounter obstacles to getting employment, housing, public assistance, and education. Sealing those records, therefore, can be invaluable. Unfortunately, even before the public health emergency, D.C. had one of the most restrictive record-sealing processes in the country. Now is the time to make criminal record sealing easier; but, in D.C., it is only getting harder. Read more →

Jul 17


Legal Aid Submits Objection to Trump Administration’s Proposed Asylum Rule

The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia submitted comments this week strongly opposing a U.S. Department of Justice and Homeland Security proposed rule that would severely and unfairly restrict the number of individuals who can obtain asylum relief. If implemented the rule would represent a sweeping change to the current U.S. asylum policies and processes. Among those affected will be many Legal Aid clients, including survivors of gender-based persecution, as the proposed rule would effectively eliminate gender-based persecution as a basis for asylum.

The proposed rule would effectively gut asylum relief by allowing sweeping categorical denials, severely restricting eligibility, and imposing potential bars to relief on nearly every asylum seeker. For example, adjudicators could deny relief due to persecution based on “retribution,” “interpersonal disputes,” or “private criminal acts.” The proposed rule would, therefore, effectively eliminate the ability to obtain asylum based on any private actor harm, including gang violence, intimate partner violence, or other gender-based persecution. Read more →

Jul 15


Chemonics International Announces $100,000 Donation to Legal Aid

Chemonics International, a private international development firm based in DC, announced a $100,000 commitment to Legal Aid today, as part of our Making Justice Real Campaign. It is the largest single donation in the Campaign’s 30-year history.

“Chemonics has been promoting meaningful change around the world for 45 years, but given the movement for racial justice happening in the District and around the country, we wanted to make a difference here at home,” said Jamey Butcher, President & CEO of Chemonics. Read more →

Jul 13


New Immigration Policy On International Students Is Unnecessarily Strict

UPDATE: On Tuesday, July 14, the Trump Administration announced that it will rescind the policy referenced in this post, which would have barred international students from the United States if their colleges canceled in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, following several lawsuits filed by universities and states.

On Monday July 6th, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a new policy that puts international students at risk of being deported if their classes are fully online in the fall. With a half-dozen colleges and universities in the DC metropolitan region, and many more within a short commuting distance of the District, many individuals in Legal Aid’s client community will shoulder the impact of this policy change, which is unnecessarily strict and places an undue burden on international students. Read more →

Jun 26


Legal Aid Strongly Supports D.C. Statehood

As the U.S. House of Representatives prepares for a historic vote on the issue later today, Legal Aid strongly urges every member of Congress to support making the District of Columbia the 51st state of the Union. The case for D.C. statehood has always been compelling, but in light of the national pandemic and a renewed spotlight on deep racial inequities, it is more powerful now than ever.

The District of Columbia is more populous than Vermont and Wyoming, and its more than 705,000 residents pay more in taxes than do the residents of 22 of the 50 states. Yet D.C. has no representation in Congress. D.C.’s lone delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, is a non-voting member of the House, and D.C. lacks a voice all together in the Senate. And unique to the District and the District alone, any permanent changes to our laws must be sent to Congress for a period of 30 days (or 60 days for certain criminal legislation) before becoming effective. Read more →

Jun 24


Outcomes of Remote Hearings Must Be Studied by Courts

“Zoom Court” is the new norm. As with all other aspects of life, justice is now being delivered virtually. According to the National Center for States Courts, all fifty states plus the District of Columbia have either suspended or given localities the option to suspend in-person proceedings. In Texas, hundreds of courtrooms have been operating remotely over Zoom, with live streamed proceedings. In Florida, a major voting rights case, about whether Florida residents with felony convictions must pay back court fines and fees before regaining their right to vote, was heard via video conference. Here in the District, some courtrooms in the Criminal, Probate, and Family Court Divisions are also operating remotely. The Civil Division is prioritizing hearing emergency and urgent matters remotely, with some additional types of hearings depending on availability of the Court and parties. High volume courts, including the Landlord and Tenant Branch, will start to hear some matters remotely. Read more →

Jun 19


U.S. Supreme Court Issues Landmark Rulings this Week

On Monday and Thursday of this week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings that handed important victories for LGBTQ individuals and Dreamers, undocumented individuals who came here as children.

In Bostock v. Clayton County Georgia, the Supreme Court held that discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment is prohibited under the Title VII prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex. Writing for the majority, Justice Gorsuch declared:

An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions. That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex. Read more →

Jun 15


Legal Aid Joins The Call to Reduce Funding for Police and Re-Invest in Communities

At a time when people across the country – including District residents – have taken to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and black people across the country who have been killed by police officers, it is crucial that we take a closer look at whether the decisions of our local leaders truly reflect the fundamental value that these protests seek to uphold: that black lives matter.

Read more →