Category Archives: April-May 2016 Mass Dissent

The Never-Ending Fight for Women’s Rights

The Never-Ending Fight for Women’s Rights

This issue of Mass Dissent is dedicated to women’s fight for equality on various fronts. Yes, it’s the 21st century but not much has changed since the last century when it comes to issues affecting women. Reproductive rights are still under attack, women continue to be sexually and physically assaulted, women make less than men for equal work, and it was just reported that professions traditionally dominated by men lower salaries when they become dominated by women. We’ve come a long way, but there is still a long way to go.

In this issue, we hear from Lisa Laurel Weinberg, recently back from providing representation for Central American women and children at the detention center in Dilley, Texas, who outlines the due-process challenges that women and children face after having fled severe violence in their home countries.

Patty DeJuneas uncovers the invasive searches that female attorneys are sometimes subjected to when visiting incarcerated clients.

Nai Collymore-Henry updates us on the continuing efforts in Massachusetts to pass An Act to Establish Pay Equity which would provide a previously missing definition of comparable work and provide greater pay transparency.

Grace Sterling Stowell describes her experience, particularly with youth, in the forefront of advocating for LGBTQ justice, and the struggle for gender identity protections.

kt crossman informs us about the work of Andrea James, Executive Director of Families for Justice As Healing (FJAH), this year’s NLG Legal Worker Awardee, who has dedicated her life to addressing and advocating for the needs of currently and formerly incarcerated women.

We also have a short report from Mark Stern on the recent work of the NLG Mass Chapter Mass Defense Committee.

– Rhonda Roselli-

NLG Mass Defense Committee at Work

NLG Mass Defense Committee at Work

Reported by Mark D. Stern

I want to tell you how amazingly well the Guild Mass Defense Committee (MDC) functions. I volunteered to represent two medics who had observed but not participated in or planned the I-93 Somerville Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest blockade. I had never done a criminal jury trial in my forty-three years of practice, but I assumed the District Attorney would have the charges dropped against the two medics eventually, or that we would get an offer of a plea deal with nothing but pretrial probation and community service. Instead Middlesex DA Marian Ryan insisted that her staff go after forty-five (not a typo) days jail time, and she ultimately assigned seven to nine ADA’s (not a typo: two up front and between five to seven backup workers, including a regional supervisor) to the case involving two misdemeanor charges – trespass on state land and disorderly conduct by a joint venture theory.

Jeff Feuer joined me as co-counsel after he pled out all the remaining defendants, all of the blockaders and the other medic (with no jail time at all imposed by the judge), and stayed up all night before the last day of the trial writing jury instructions (which he brilliantly argued but lost on) as well as editing everything I planned to say. Stephen Hrones and Joe Goldberg-Guiliano represented other protestors/ defendants whose cases were favorably resolved by plea deals. Neil Berman was representing a co-defendant whose case was to be tried together with my client’s case. Carl Williams and Makis Antzou-latos met with Neil, my client, and myself to plan our defense, and in the process we found evidence that exonerated Neil’s client (whom the DA then nolle prossed). Makis came back another time to run my client through a cross examination and play the cop for my cross examination. Oren Nimni came forward during the trial to represent a potential witness and offered to provide testimony on BLM, neither of which we ultimately presented.

At the trial the defense we presented was that a citizen may disregard repeated instructions from the police to remove herself from observing a crime scene, and therefore cannot be convicted of trespass for refusing an order of a state trooper to get off of state land which was not for public use. Although the Judge refused to give an instruction to this effect, I presented an extended argument to the effect that, given that there was a constitutional right to observe the police (which the Judge’s instructions failed to acknowledge), our client could not be guilty of willfully remaining on the land without right. We also argued that agreeing to be a medic for an unlawful demonstration is not aiding and abetting disorderly conduct by the demonstrators.

The jury came back with two NOT GUILTY verdicts, at which point the ADA’s advised the judge they would now proceed against our client on charges of conspiracy, which had been scheduled for a separate trial. Sarah Wunsch, Carl Williams, Josh Raisler-Cohn, and Makis repeatedly responded to dozens of questions I had about the law and the criminal defense process, as well as whether I could or should do a number of stupid things I thought about doing. In addition to the aforementioned, the other BLM protestors who were involved in the Quincy I-93 demonstration and who were charged with multiple counts of trespass, disorderly conduct, conspiracy, resisting arrest and blocking an emergency vehicle, were ably represented by NLG attorneys Susan Church, Benjie Hiller, Mark McMahon, and Neil Berman. All of those cases were resolved as well without any of the demonstrators receiving any jail time.

The MDC works like a well-oiled machine. It was a pleasure and of the greatest assistance to get to work with the aforementioned named members of the Committee to achieve this small victory against an overzealous district attorney and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mark Stern is an NLG member and a co-founder of the Massachsuetts Chapter.

NLG Massachusetts Chapter Annual Meeting

NLG Massachusetts Chapter Annual Meeting

In March, the Chapter held its Annual Meeting and elected Chapter’s new Board of Directors and Officers. The meeting was attended by over 30 NLG members who engaged in a lively conversation about Chapter’s current work, finances, and how to sustain us in the future. We welcome new Board members and officers (see page 2) and would like to thank Board members who will not continue their service on the Chapter Board – Beverly Chorbajian, Steven Buckley, Emily Camin, Stefanie Grindle, Stephen Hrones, and Halim Moris. We tremendously appreciate your work and contributions to the Board and the NLG. Thank you!


Photo by Rita Sebastian

Congratulations to Dave Conforto

Congratulations to Dave Conforto

An early surprise by nearly three weeks, Grace Conforto was born on Thursday, February 4 at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.  Proud parents Dave and Tara had one last date night planned for Friday, February 5.  Grace foiled our plans, and we couldn’t be happier to have her crash our party!

p.4 Grace

Detaining Central American Women with their Children Violates Due Process and Humanitarian Principals

Detaining Central American Women with their Children Violates Dues Process and Humanitarian Principles

by Lisa Laurel Weinberg

“Where death is on the table, there is a heightened need for reliability and accuracy.” (1)

D.M.L. fled Honduras with her 17-year-old and 8-month-old daughters. She had been beaten, threatened and raped at gunpoint by her husband. D.M.L., 33 years old, met her husband at 15 and married him at 16. The abuse escalated in the past two years, with her husband beating and threatening to kill her and pointing a gun to her head several times. She tried to leave, but her husband found her and their children. D.M.L. didn’t go to the police because she knew they wouldn’t help and she was unaware of other resources. She fled to the U.S. and was detained in Artesia New Mexico with her children.

In June 2014, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began detaining the Central American women and children who fled from Central America and crossed the U.S. Mexico border at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia New Mexico at a temporary detention center that was a modified ICE training center. In September 2014, I successfully represented D.M.L. in her political asylum case while she and her two children (one a nursing infant) were detained at this detention center. D.M.L. is just one of the hundreds of Central American women with children who have fled from the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Central America has high rates of murder and violence against women. The detainees are mothers with their children primarily fleeing this violence. We met women who were fleeing domestic violence, sexual and physical violence perpetrated on their children, violence on account of their sexual orientation, violence and death threats against their children for refusing to join gangs, death threats against them for not allowing their children to join gangs, and violence and rape by gangs simply because they are women.

In a departure from previous practice and policy, where women with children were allowed to live in the community while they navigated their immigration proceedings, the Obama Administration began detaining them for the duration of their immigration proceedings. The rational for detaining these women and children is to deter other Central American women and children from fleeing to the U.S. The 672-bed facility in Artesia, New Mexico was closed in December 2014, but family detention did not end. The remaining women and children were transferred to a permanent 532-bed immigration detention facility in Karnes City, Texas (now expanded to 800 beds). New arrivals of women and children are being detained in Karnes and in a newly built 2,400-bed facility in Dilley, Texas and at an 89-bed facility in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Overall family detention centers now have space for 3,500 women and children.

Individuals who are apprehended by ICE within 100 miles of the border or turn themselves in to ICE at the border are subjected to “expedited removal proceedings.” “Expedited removal” or in plain language, rapid deportation, allows the government to quickly remove or deport an individual who does not have valid documents to enter the U.S. or who enters the U.S. fraudulently. These individuals can be rapidly deported without a hearing before an immigration judge or a hearing officer unless they tell a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent that they have the intention to apply for asylum or that they fear of persecution or torture if they are returned to their home countries. Many women don’t know they must state their fear as soon as they encounter a border patrol agent or they will be deported. If they express fear or intention to apply for asylum to a CBP officer, this is when they are detained, otherwise they are deported.

When they are detained they are entitled to a “credible fear” or a “reasonable fear” interview in front of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hearing officer. This is where an asylum officer interviews the individual and does an initial screening of the case to determine whether there is a “significant possibility” that the alien could establish eligibility for asylum” or that the person has a “reasonable fear they will be persecuted or tortured.”

In early February 2016, I visited the largest (2400-bed) family detention center, in Dilley, Texas, a town with a population of 3674. According to DHS Secretary, Jeh Johnson, the new detention facilities were built to quickly deport people and to deter future migrants (2). This is evident at the Dilley Detention Center. At Dilley, the immigration court and the hearing offices are set up inside the detention center right next to where the women and children meet with volunteer lawyers. In cases where a judge hears the case, the cases are adjudicated remotely and a judge hears the case through a video Technology System while the women sit in a “court room” with their attorney (if they are lucky enough to get a volunteer attorney) and the ICE agents. The administrative hearing offices are also in the detention center, steps away from the court, down a guarded hallway.

As in Artesia, the Dilley detention centers (or as the New York Times calls them “detention camps” (3) are located in isolated rural areas. It took me a two-hour drive through the desert to get to Dilley. Dilley is a dusty little town with no law offices or social services nearby. The closest hospital has 18 beds. Even if there were sufficient legal, medical, and social services nearby, the women and children cannot leave to seek them out. There is a committed volunteer core of self-funded immigration attorneys led by a small paid staff of the CARA Pro Bono Project, but there are not nearly enough lawyers to meet all of the legal needs of the women and children.

The physical conditions were better than I observed in Artesia, but that does not negate the fact that there are still vulnerable women and children being detained who have fled for their lives, have often been harmed before they fled, have taken a long dangerous arduous journey with their children, may have been harmed en route to the U.S., may have gone without food, water, and medical care on their journey, and are mentally traumatized. Further, I did not observe the living or dining quarters or the medical facilities because legal visitors are not permitted in those areas, however, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and independent monitoring body which held hearings visited the family detention centers concluded that the physical conditions were poor and the medical treatment was inadequate (4) Further, numerous studies have shown that even very short periods of detention can undermine a child’s psychological health and physical well being and compromise their cognitive development. Children held in detention are at risk of suffering depression and anxiety, and frequently exhibit symptoms consistent with post- traumatic stress disorder such as nightmares, insomnia, and bed- wetting (5). I myself observed a 15- month-old child who had stopped eating solid foods and had reverted to breastfeeding and was physically listless and whose eyes were staring and vacant.

The detention of children and their mothers is not only inhumane, but incompatible with a fair legal process. In immigration proceedings, migrants have the right to an attorney, but they do not get a

court-appointed attorney, they must acquire an attorney independently who will volunteer or they must hire one at their own expense. Many are not told about their right to seek legal counsel or their right to appeal a negative decision (6). Once detained, a woman in expedited proceedings in a detention center has great barriers to success if she has an attorney, and even greater barriers if she doesn’t have an attorney. The woman seeking refuge has no knowledge of the legal system, does not speak the language, does not know the culture, does not have access to corroborating evidence, may be afraid of the authorities, may be traumatized, may be unfamiliar with technology (hearings are held by video technology), may not be functionally literate, and may be suffering from physical ailments. Further, they may have never told anyone the details about why they had to flee their country, often details of a highly personal and traumatic nature. Many women cannot articulate their fear in such a way that fits within the definition of a refugee entitled to protection. Data from one study shows that only 2.3 percent of Central American families without counsel were allowed to stay in the country, while those with attorneys are 14 times less likely less likely to receive deportation orders (7).

On February 20, 2015, in the Matter of R.I.L-R v. Jeh Charles Johnson, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued a preliminary injunction enjoining DHS from detaining Central American families en masse for the purpose of deterring future immigration to the United States, and from considering deterrence of future immigration as a factor in custody determinations (8). However, notwithstanding this order, DHS is still detaining women and children during their eligibility proceedings.

The stakes in refugee cases are grave. An incorrect decision can lead a person to severe physical harm, death, or other severe human rights violations. According to one report, 83 people deported back to Central American since January 2014 have been killed, some within a short time of arrival (9). The attorneys who are volunteering at the detention center have their proverbial finger in the dam and are doing their best to get legal information to the detained women to prepare as many women as possible, but it is not enough to ensure adequate due process protections for their legal cases. Finally, it is inhumane for the U.S. government to detain women and force them to make the choice to be detained and to watch their children deteriorate in order to keep themselves and their children safe, or to return to where they will likely be killed.  It is inhumane and a violation of the children’s human rights to detain them at all.

Lisa Laurel Weinberg is an immigration attorney at Community Legal Services and Counseling Center in Cambridge, MA.  

(1) “‘Death is Different’ and a Refugees Right to Refuse Counsel”

(2)National Immigrant Justice Center; Stop Detaining Families,

(3) The Shame of America’s Family Detention Camps, New York Times, Feb. 4, 2015.
(4) Detention Conditions ‘similar, if not worse’ than migrants’ home countries, report says; Los Angeles Times, Sep. 18, 2015.
(5) End Immigrant Detention of Children ( citing numerous studies.
(6) Id.
(7) Ensuring Due Process Protections for Central American Refugees, Rights in Exile, March 1, 2016.

(8) MATTER OF R.I.L-R v. Jeh Charles Johnson, Case 1:15-cv-00011-JEB Document 32 Filed 2/20/2015 p. 1.

(9) Ensuring Due Process Protections for Central American Refugees, Rights in Exile, March 1, 2016