Social Justice Lawyering Clinic students, students, Adam Karbeling (’24), Jackie McCann (‘25), and Alex Suarez (’25), have partnered with the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA-PA) to draft stronger legislation to protect domestic workers against retaliation, exploitation, and other unfair and illegal practices. Together along with other worker advocate groups, the NDWA-PA organized the Philly Workers Fight Back Summit in November, which brought different workers together to share stories, find solidarity, and devise strategies concerning the draft legislation. “It was great to see the excitement surrounding this legislation at the Philly Workers Fight Back Summit, where everyone I talked to was interested in various details of the legislation and had thought deeply about it,” said Karbeling, who attended the event. See here for Philadelphia Inquirer coverage of the event.
In this week’s Temple News, journalism student Alayna Hutchinson reports on a plan by students in our Social Justice Lawyering Clinic to provide better information to Temple students — especially undergraduates — about their rights as tenants in off-campus housing. Casey Dwyer and Anna Manu Fineanganofo, 2Ls, developed the plan in consultation with the Office of the Dean of Students, the Cherry Pantry, and the Law School’s student-organized Housing Justice Initiative. Law students participating in the program would offer legal information to students with questions about their leases or rental conditions; if legal advice or representation were needed, a student could be referred to one of Philly’s legal services organizations.
We’re grateful to Temple News reporter Alayna Hutchinson for digging into the important issue — well documented by Temple’s own Hope Center — of how to get more legal help to students with problems involving basic needs.
In late September, Philadelphia City Councilmember Jim Harrity introduced a bill seeking to end medical deportation in the city by hospitals. Three Temple Law students in the Social Justice Lawyering Clinic, Sarah Hampton (’22), Livia Luan (’23), and Adalberto Rosado (’23), worked along with the Free Migration Project to draft this ordinance ensuring that ill, injured, or elderly uninsured patients will not be deported to their country of origin against their will due to financial or language barriers. Check out this Philly Inquirer article that has more about this practice and how this bill will assist this endangered population.
Latest update: On December 14, 2023, the bill passed 14-1 in the final session of City Council for the year.
Today, the Sheller Center, along with Penn Law School, released a report tracing the racial harms of the Registry. The report, titled Pathways to Poverty: How the ChildLine and Abuse Registry Disproportionately Harms Black Workers and Families, summarizes a year-long investigation by students finding that Black Pennsylvanians are more likely to be reported for child abuse, be placed on the Registry, and lose a job as a result. Further information can be found in our press release and the subsequent coverage with WITF, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Berks County Detention Center–—which first held immigrant families and then women—is finally shutting down. The federal government announced that it is ending its contract with Berks County on January 31, 2023.
The Shut Down Berks Coalition, comprised of organizers, lawyers, immigrant leaders, faith communities and allies, has long been advocating for the closure of the facility due to the inhumane treatment of immigrants, many of whom are fleeing violence and seeking protection. While the facility first opened in 2001, it was under the Obama Administration that a record number of immigrant families were detained at the center, including mothers and infants. Most recently, Berks County converted the facility into one that held adult immigrant women.
The Social Justice Lawyering Clinic (SJLC) has long been working in support of the coalition to call for closure of the facility. Rhiannon DiClemente (‘16) and Paige Joki (‘17) first outlined the case for why the facility was illegally holding families and children under Pennsylvania law. In 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (PA DHS) revoked the operating license for the facility. John Farrell (‘17), Anthony Sierzega (‘18), and Mariya Tsalkovich (’18) then drafted an Urgent Action Appeal on behalf of over 50 immigrant right organizations with the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention arguing that the facility is engaged in unfair and arbitrary practices that restrict liberty and endanger the health and dignity of families.
In opposition to Berks County’s continued litigation to challenge the revocation of their license, SJLC filed an amicus brief on behalf of physicians, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and Psychologists for Social Responsibility about how detention inflicts serious harm on asylum-seeking children. In December 2019, Emma Pajer (’20) and Jediah Grobstein (’20) helped to file a lawsuit on behalf of several families based on PA DHS’ unlawful back door agreement to continue operation of the facility without a license. In March 2021, when Berks County decided to convert the facility into a women’s detention center, Lina Ruth Duiker (’22) and Kate Steiker-Ginzberg (’22) helped Berks County residents file a Sunshine Act lawsuit against the county for being secretive about its proposal for conversion and expansion of bed space at the facility.
All this work by SJLC was done in collaboration with community and legal partners: Aldea, Al Otro Lado, Free Migration Project, Juntos, Make the Road Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, Syrena Law, and Villanova’s Farmworker Clinic.
At the end of the day, what triumphed was the powerful voices of the parents and children who had been detained at this facility. In a letter to the outside world, the Madres de Berks questioned how the U.S. government could continue:
“… depriving them of having a normal life, knowing that we have prior traumas from our countries, risking our own lives and that of our children on the way until we arrived here, having family and friends who would be responsible for us and who are waiting for us with open arms and that immigration refuses to let us out.”
As we continue to grapple with immigrant detention in Pennsylvania, may we remember these voices.
Social Justice Lawyering Clinic (SLJC) students David Baldwin (’22) and Livia Luan (’23) created a survey tool for attorneys to capture their experiences with limited English proficient (LEP) persons in the Pennsylvania courts. This tool was created as part of a statewide advocacy effort to ensure that LEP litigants, victims, and witness have a right to an interpreter in the Pennsylvania courts. This fall, law schools across the state will launch a survey with local community groups created by the same SJLC team.
For any attorneys who have experience with LEP persons in the Pennsylvania courts, please take the survey here.
In 2017, Pennsylvania issued a statewide language access plan in response to the systemic failure of Pennsylvania courts to provide interpreters to limited English proficient (LEP) persons. Such failures were previously documented by SJLC students in their reports Unfinished Business: The Continuing Challenge for Limited English Proficient Individuals in Pennsylvania’s Minor Courts and Barriers to Justice for Non-English Speakers in the Pennsylvania Courts. In collaboration with the coalition, this new work by SJLC is intended to assess the how the courts are faring with the new statewide language access plan.
A Tenant’s Guide to Suing Your Landlord: Holding Landlords Accountable for Unsafe Housing Conditions is a step-by-step pro se guide on how tenants can proactively file cases against their landlords for substandard conditions. Many tenants live in unsafe or inadequate homes. This is no accident. Landlords profit by neglecting housing while still collecting full rent from tenants. More than 300 properties in Philadelphia have been cited as unfit for human habitation every year. Tenants rarely sue their landlords, but landlords annually file 24,000 eviction cases in Philadelphia alone.
The guide is an interactive tool with fillable forms, checklists, and worksheets. It walks tenants through the process of identifying their housing issues, providing notice to their landlords, collecting evidence, and preparing for court interviews and hearings. By engaging in the bite-size steps laid out in the guide, tenants will develop their personal statement and evidence (including damages calculation) needed to make a strong claim. Ultimately, the fillable forms in the guide can be submitted to the Court as evidence of the tenant’s case, reducing the barriers and confusion that a tenant may otherwise face in filing a pro se claim.
Lina Ruth Duiker (’22), Ashley Hyman (’22), and Maria Thomson (’22) developed the guide as part of the Social Justice Lawyering Clinic. The guide was created on behalf of the Tenant Union Representative Network (TURN), which partners with the community to advocate for a legal system that values housing as a human right. Tenants can bring the guide to TURN or another housing advocate for additional support and individualized advice if needed. By empowering tenant groups and increasing their access to justice, the guide seeks to shift the narrative away from identifying tenant poverty as the primary cause of substandard housing to recognizing the primary role of landlord neglect.
- By Colin O’Neil
At the end of my 1L year, I knew what a complaint was, had learned some civil procedure, and had some abstract ideas of the difficulties disadvantaged communities face. After participating in the Social Justice Lawyering Clinic, I’ve written an actual complaint, figured out how to apply civil procedure to a real case, and helped an actual client get the money he was entitled to from his former employer.
In our first meeting, my client—who knew little English and brought his son to translate—explained that he was an immigrant from Pakistan who had worked at a gas station in Philadelphia. For the seven months he worked there, his employer paid him well below minimum wage. Worse, he was never paid at all for his final few months of work. He didn’t want to sue his former boss, but didn’t know what else to do.
At the time, I didn’t really know what to do either. However, my partner and I worked through the possibilities and began drafting a complaint. Writing this complaint was the first thing I did in law school that would have a real-world impact on someone’s life, which was just as valuable, and scary, as it sounds.
After filing the complaint, we heard nothing from my client’s boss for months. When we finally sent him notice of our intent to file for default judgement, his attorney called us. We then began the settlement process. I went back and forth with opposing counsel, negotiating a settlement offer for my client. Months later, right before it seemed like negotiations were about to break down, my client decided to settle. Though it was less than he could have gotten if he had won at trial, he came away happy with this amount. I’ll never forget when his son called to thank me for helping his father.
Through the Social Justice Lawyering Clinic, I was able to apply what I had previously learned in the classroom to represent a client through their whole case—from our first meeting in the Sheller Center all the way to settlement. Along the way, I gained the skills and confidence I’ll need to continue helping clients in the future.
- By BK Katzmann (’22)
Despite COVID-19 impediments, we have been fortunate to stay engaged with the larger community through the networks built by the Sheller Center for Social Justice. My interest in low-wage workers got me connected to the Coalition to Respect Every Worker (CREW). CREW is comprised of twelve different community organizations advocating for Philadelphians across various industries. In recent years, CREW has achieved significant victories for low wage workers, including most recently pushing for extended paid sick leave related to the pandemic.
In December, CREW held their first Zoom legal clinic. I worked to organize students to help with intake. The goal of the clinic was to both educate workers and ensure enforcement against employers who are violating the laws. Before the clinic, OnePA and Community Legal Services led trainings to teach us specifically about Philadelphia’s worker protection laws and how to work with potential clients coming from CREW’s member organizations. The clinic Zoom was set up such that organizers from CREW held Know-Your-Rights trainings in the main room, while the law students and other organizers met with workers individually in breakout rooms. Volunteer lawyers were available to field questions from the individual meetings and plan out next steps.
Although getting to apply the skills I am learning in law school was valuable on its own, the most impactful part of this volunteer opportunity was the ability to participate in a system where everyone had value. There was no sense that the attorneys knew more than anyone else. Instead, the community valued each individual’s skills, capacities, and needs. This sentiment was particularly apparent at the end of the clinic where all those remaining in the Zoom session—workers, organizers, lawyers, and law students—shared what we were taking away from the evening. Despite the diversity of voices and roles within the meeting, everyone offered some message of gratitude and solidarity. Participating first-hand in a setting where lawyers and clients work together in the pursuit of justice was truly powerful. I am grateful to the Sheller Center for Social Justice for this kind of learning opportunity, and I hope that many other students get the chance to work with our surrounding community.
The Sheller Center, on behalf of Make the Road Pennsylvania and residents of Berks County, has filed a lawsuit against the Berks County Commissioners for deliberately keeping secret its plans surrounding the Berks County Residential Center (BCRC). BCRC is one of three family detention facilities in the US that has a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigrants seeking asylum. It has long attracted local, statewide, and national attention, particularly given the impact of detention on children.
On February 25, 2021, the County Commissioners voted 2-1 on a resolution concerning the future of the facility. While the vote was public, the language of the resolution was so cryptic that it was unclear what the vote was really about. The federal government has stated that it is working with Berks County to convert the BCRC into an adult facility. The resolution referred to executing a letter of support to ICE for a white paper proposal for the facility. The Commissioners, however, neither engaged in public discussion nor provided information about the contents of these documents.
Plaintiffs are concerned about the continuing use of BCRC for immigration detention. Since the resolution passed, the public has sought to get further information. Berks County’s response has been to deny these requests for information and refuse to answer questions concerning BCRC.
The Sunshine Act requires that local governments operate openly as part of the democratic process. The complaint alleges that Berks County violated the Sunshine Act by having private deliberations about the resolution and failing to provide the public with a reasonable opportunity to comment prior to official action. It requests that the resolution be voided and the public be provided the opportunity to discuss Berks County’s plans for BCRC.
Temple law students, Lina Ruth Duiker (‘22) and Kate Steiker-Ginzberg (‘22) helped to draft the complaint. A Facebook Live event sponsored by the Shut Down Berks Coalition featuring Lina can be found here. Co-counsel include Temple Law alumni Karen Hoffman (‘16) and Carol Anne Donohoe (‘10) with Al Otro Lado, Free Migration Project and Aldea. Further media coverage of the lawsuit can be found here and here.