Standing in Solidarity with Nancy

On October 8, 2020, Nancy Nguyen was arrested out of her house at around 7:30 pm in front of her two children (ages 18 months, 3 years old). The arrest was based on a warrant from Virginia for allegedly trespassing and littering during a protest in early September, in front of the house of Tony Pham, Director of ICE. Nancy is the Executive Director of VietLead, which focuses on sustainability and self-determination for Vietnamese and Southeast Asian communities in the region. The Sheller Center has collaborated with VietLead on a variety of projects in order to support them in advancing the rights of their community members. We have always been struck by Nancy’s leadership and vision for mobilizing and empowering community members.

Nancy’s arrest is likely the result of overreach by the local prosecutor and Philadelphia police. Yet it’s within the context of a current Administration that encourages retaliation against those who are engaged in resistance to the federal immigration system. Most notably, the government has stepped up surveillance and raids in “sanctuary” cities where immigrant activists and allies have actively advocated for such policies. ICE has also specifically sought out to arrest those who are immigrant rights activists, leading sometimes to deportation orders. These activities have created a chilling effect on activists while instilling fear more likely to depress organizing efforts.

Enough is enough. This is a country where dissent has played an integral role in fostering conversations that can help us reimagine how to reform our broken federal immigration system.

PA Law Professors Urge Limits on Admissibility of Information on Immigration Status

If evidence of immigration status can freely be revealed during court proceedings, immigrants or witnesses may choose to forego going to court. This fear can be a potent weapon against immigrants who need protection from abuse, seek unpaid wages from an employer, or have other legal problems. Allowing immigration information to be used in court proceedings on unrelated issues undermines the public interest and interferes with the obligations of the courts to vindicate the legal rights of parties. For this reason, the issue of when immigration status may be revealed should be strictly regulated.

The good news is that the Rules Committee of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has proposed a new rule of evidence concerning immigration status. The Sheller Center, in conjunction with law professors across Pennsylvania, has submitted a letter commenting on this new rule. While the letter applauds the creation of a rule, it urges the Committee to make additional changes to ensure that the rights of immigrants are adequately protected.

This letter, which is a follow up from the first letter from Pennsylvania Law Professors, suggests further narrowing of the situations in which immigration status can be considered in civil proceedings. It also requests that a more explicit procedure be put in place for litigants who wish to introduce evidence of immigration status, such as requiring an advance written motion and in camera review. Not only are these suggestions comparable to what states like Washington and California are doing, but they also serve the important purpose of allowing courts to maintain open access to the courts for all Pennsylvanians.

This fall in the Access to Justice Clinic

Students in the Center’s Access to Justice Clinic, profiled in this month’s Philadelphia Bar Reporter, work on projects aimed at creating better systems for helping people who are unrepresented in civil matters. This fall, students are:

  • Studying Philadelphia’s small claims court, where mostly-unrepresented people are sued — typically by large debt-buying companies — over credit-card and other debts. The difficult experience of unrepresented defendants in consumer-debt courts, and ideas for ways of leveling the playing field, are the subject of a recent national study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, How Debt Collectors are Transforming the Business of State Courts.
  • Exploring the experience of parties to child custody proceedings in Family Court, where hearings are now held virtually rather than in-person. On-line proceedings can pose hardships for unrepresented people, especially when internet access is limited and private space hard to find.
  • Looking into the possibility of creating a legal “incubator” that could help law graduates set up affordable practices serving small businesses in Philly. Currently, the city’s smallest enterprises have difficulty getting help with taxes, contracts, compliance, and other matters, and the pandemic has exacerbated the need.

We’re also continuing to work on promoting the recommendations contained in our two  reports from last summer, Reducing Default Judgments in Philadelphia’s Landlord-Tenant Court and A Powerful Resource in Plain Sight – How the Free Library Can Promote Access to Justice. We welcome suggestions for ways of moving our projects forward — as well as ideas for new efforts!