Sheller Center Students File Urgent Appeal with the UN

jack-at-city-hall-press-conferenceFifty-nine organizations, including the Sheller Center for Social Justice, filed an Urgent Appeal with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention about the detention of immigrant families in Berks County. Law students with the Social Justice Lawyering Clinic, John Farrell, Anthony Sierzega, Mariya Tsalkovich, worked with Juntos, a local grassroots advocacy organization to draft the appeal. Anthony Sierzega explains, “sending an Urgent Action Appeal to the UN Working Group is an opportunity to demand justice for migrant families seeking safety and opportunity in the United States and to draw international attention to the disturbing human right abuses that our country continues to endorse.” See the Philadelphia Inquirer and WHYY Newsworks stories that feature Temple law students arguing that families have been arbitrarily detained by the U.S. in violation of international law.

Affordable housing and racial justice

The redevelopment of Philadelphia neighborhoods is putting pressure on the city’s supply of public housing – and on Philadelphia’s poorest residents, who are disproportionately persons of color.  What can be done to ensure that their housing needs are fairly addressed?

With this problem in mind, Justice Lab students are continuing to work this fall with their client, Community Legal Services’ Housing Unit.  While an advanced student continues to work on advocacy related to HUD’s new Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program (see our Philadelphia Rental Assistance Demonstration Program Advocacy Guide, issued last spring), other Justice Lab students are helping CLS develop a long-term strategy to address racial justice in affordable housing in Philadelphia.

Students are collecting and analyzing data about public housing properties, Section 8 contracts, demographics, income levels, gentrification trends, and other factors to identify ways to preserve affordable housing.  This innovative work will allow the students and CLS to develop proactive strategies to preserve equitable, affordable housing in Philadelphia, before tenants are at risk of losing their homes.

Billing parents for their children’s incarceration?!

When Philadelphia children are incarcerated, the City bills their parents for the costs of confining them. And if parents don’t pay, the City garnishes wages, withdraws funds from bank accounts, or garnishes tax refunds.

Justice Lab students Sela Cowger, Kelsey Grimes and Wesley Stevenson worked this spring with their client, the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project, to seek a moratorium on this practice. The team’s research included interviews with attorneys who represent children, the City attorney who handles collections against parents, and parents who had been sued.  The students also met with members of Mayor Kenney’s administration.  While the problem is not yet fixed, there’s reason to be optimistic that it will be soon.

Ms. Stevenson commented: “What struck me most was that every single person we talked to about our project was outraged that the City would charge parents to incarcerate their own children.  From the social worker, to our friends outside of law school, to acquaintances I know in my neighborhood, everyone agreed: it’s just not right. That consensus provided me with clarity and a sense that my team’s work mattered and could have real impact, both in changing everyday lives but also changing attitudes. And it inspired us to extend the length of our project; some of our team will be returning to this fight in the fall semester in the hope that the City will end this harmful policy before the end of the year.”