2011 Report on Project Work - Immigrant and Refugee Rights
- Recovered damages for victims of wage theft. One of our clients was a maintenance man for two Wilmington hotels who worked 60 to 65 hours a week but was paid only for 40 hours. After a year of litigation, we recovered more than $15,000 of back pay he was owed. In addition to numerous individual cases, we are pursuing a class-action case on behalf of more than 850 poultry workers who did not receive pay to which they were entitled when their employer went out of business; we have already received preliminary court approval of a settlement.
- Obtained immigrant benefits for more than 120 people. These benefits – including lawful status, work authorization, and protection from deportation – enabled our clients and, in some cases, their families to live and work in North Carolina and contribute to the state’s culture and economy. We secured asylum for a couple from Iran and a family of three from Pakistan who each faced death in their home countries because they had converted to Christianity. Among our other clients was a young Honduran woman whose husband had abused and threatened to kill her; thanks to our efforts, she was granted asylum, and now she and her children are safe. We also obtained asylum for a woman from Afghanistan who, because she worked and lived independently as a single woman in the United States, was accused of living an “immoral” life and was told she would be killed if she returned to her homeland. In addition to representing clients like these at the Asylum Office, we worked in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Immigration Court, and the Board of Immigration Appeals to get legal status for our clients.
- Prevented the deportation of more than 20 detained immigrants. In addition, we created a handbook, printed in English and Spanish, that included important information for people facing detention and possible deportation and for their families. We also created a webinar for immigration advocates and trainers that provided critical information about the detention process and detainees’ rights.
- Provided legal representation to juveniles in the immigration system. This year, the Charlotte Immigration Court became one of only a handful of courts nationally to implement a separate court docket for juveniles. In response, we began providing individualized in-person assessments for all juveniles with no legal representation in order to identify meritorious cases to accept or refer to other organizations or private attorneys. We assessed the cases of more than 30 children – ages 10 to 18 – in 2011.
- Prevented bills that would hurt North Carolina’s immigrant community from becoming law. Sadly, immigrants are often to the target of punitive and discriminatory legislation that, if passed, would undermine safety and opportunity for everyone in North Carolina. This year, with our partners and allies, we helped to stop numerous bills from passing, including a bill that would have instituted Arizona-style racial profiling in North Carolina. In addition, we played a lead role with the Adelante Education Coalition in securing dramatic improvements to a bill that would have forced school officials to require information about immigration status when children enroll in public schools. As part of our advocacy efforts, we planned and implemented simultaneous statewide vigils for education access in Charlotte, Greensboro, Asheville, Raleigh and Greenville.
- Recovering damages for immigrants who are victims of fraud. We are currently litigating a class-action case against a notario who defrauded some 350 immigrants in North Carolina out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in a scheme where he illegally offered to provide legal representation in immigration proceedings.
- Defending the housing rights of immigrant families. We are litigating numerous cases involving landlord abuses of tenants who are immigrants. These cases deal with wrongful evictions, poor housing conditions such as toxic mold, and other violations of tenants’ rights. In addition, we filed several cases on behalf of victims of the April 2011 tornado, which hit a Raleigh mobile home park with mostly immigrant tenants. After the trauma and destruction of the tornado, these residents faced numerous housing issues, including municipal condemnation of homes and the bulldozing of homes by the landlord without tenants’ permission.
- Supporting immigrant organizations throughout North Carolina. Our attorneys regularly answer questions on the rights of immigrants in regards to education, employment, housing, and public benefits. In addition, we lead and staff the statewide workgroup of advocates and community leaders that coordinates education, advocacy, and strategic action.
- Empowering immigrant communities with information about their rights. We planned and facilitated more than 30 workshops and retreats with low-wage workers, immigrant advocates, and community groups in counties throughout North Carolina, including Chatham, Duplin, Forsyth, Guilford, Moore, Nash, Orange, Pitt, Wake, and Wayne counties. At these events we addressed anti-immigrant legislation, immigrant worker layoffs, workers’ rights, housing and consumer law, public benefits, the unjust federal immigration system, and strategies for community organizing.
- Promoting respect for immigrants in North Carolina. The Justice Center was a leader in the creation of Uniting NC in 2008, and today we provide leadership and support for this organization dedicated to making North Carolina a place that respects and values immigrants. In 2011, Uniting NC received the Peace Prize from the NC Peace Corps Association and an award for multicultural outreach from AARP North Carolina.
- Protecting the rights of immigrants in the court system. We filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of three immigrant organizations, charging that the North Carolina court system failed to provide interpreters for individuals with limited English proficiency in civil and some criminal court proceedings. In response to the complaint, the Justice Department launched a vigorous and thorough investigation with which we assisted by identifying witnesses and arranging meetings.